Tuesday 30 November 2004

Yet more stupidity.

The ever-brilliant Tongue Tied reports the latest political correctness craze to sweep American schools:

Homecoming, the quintessentially American tradition featuring kings and queens wearing satin sashes and sparkly tiaras, is a tumultuous topic on campus these days.

Universities and high schools across the country, driven in large part by protests from gay students, are re-examining the ritual of crowning homecoming kings and queens ....

"Re-examining". Always a dangerous word in the hands of lefty activists: it generally means "trashing".

At Vanderbilt University in Nashville this month, a gay student who ran for homecoming queen and took his place on the court in drag at a football game caused a huge stir. In October, students at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota elected their first male homecoming queen. That student and the university administrators say they were barraged with hostile telephone calls and e-mail messages from alumni and parents.

I bet a few of those phone calls were from etymologists. "King" means "male monarch"; "queen" means "female monarch". This whole thing is like campaigning for the right to call peacocks "peahens".

"We always get Mr. Heterosexual Vanderbilt and Ms. Heterosexual Vanderbilt to be the perfect king and queen," said Everett Moran, 21, the gay senior at Vanderbilt who ran for homecoming queen.

Mr. Moran did not win the crown, but he was elected to the homecoming court, appearing at the college football game on Nov. 6 wearing a black dress with an Empire waist and elbow-length red gloves, accentuated by the yellow sash draped over each of the 11 homecoming court students. But he made plenty of enemies in the process, with critics loudly criticizing him in the college newspaper and elsewhere.

"When the gay community separates from mainstream, it's a way of disappearing into the shadows," he said. "I really just wanted to put it in everyone's face. I wanted to make alumni and students recognize that on this campus we have gay students, and as much as the administration wants to keep us in the shadows, off to the side and out of the limelight, I'm not going to stand for it."

Please, please! I'm a victim, too! I'm oppressed! Notice me! Notice me!

Look, I live six thousand miles away, and even I can't help but notice the gay students in American colleges, not to mention every other part of America. Perhaps Mr Moran is confusing "shadows" with "media".

Some high schools now hold separate gay proms. But gay students like Mr. Moran say that is not enough. They view homecoming as an opportunity to integrate gay students into a classically heterosexual ritual.

He's right that gays and straights shouldn't be separated, of course. Which kind of makes you wonder why he's trying so hard to separate himself. He seems to have a bit of trouble with the word "integrate".

[At] Hayward High School, in the San Francisco Bay Area, ... a straight girl was elected king last year; she ran for king because she did not want to compete with her best friend, who was elected queen.

Oh, boo hoo. Nothing to do with sexuality that time, then: the girl was just a spoilt brat who doesn't understand that the world doesn't revolve around her. One position; two candidates. Get used to it. I'd love to see the tantrum the first time she fails a job interview.

At another high school, Sweetwater, in National City, Calif., a lesbian was elected homecoming queen in 2001 and wore a tuxedo to the celebration.

Now, she's got the right idea. Clearly, no-one was discriminating against her (at least, not enough to stop her getting elected), but she's not taking the piss by trying to pretend she was born with a penis — which is one of the major requirements of kingship. She was elected queen. So she wore a tuxedo. Why shouldn't she? Good for her.

A gay male student was elected homecoming queen at Southwest Texas State University in 1999, the same year that another young man, also gay, ran for homecoming queen at New Mexico State University, prompting that student government, after a backlash, to rule that queens must be female and kings must be male. That rule was overturned in 2002 after a female student applied to run for king.

What is wrong with these people, that they actually think you need a student government to decide these matters? You don't. You need a dictionary.

[Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network] said that in the past year he had heard from a growing number of high school students inquiring about changing homecoming to include gays. "Boys are supposed to be with girls and so forth, but gay people are saying there's another way to be," he said. "For some people that's scary."

No, it's bloody not. Homecoming kings and queens aren't forced to mate with each other, so the issue here is nothing to do with whether boys are with girls or with other boys. Not once in the entire article is there any mention of a homecoming king being discriminated against because he's got a boyfriend — and there's no way the reporter wouldn't have mentioned it if she'd found such a story. The issue is a simple matter of what the words "king" and "queen" mean. I can't be an actress or a barmaid. It's nothing to do with rights. I have the right to be an actress. I just don't have the, er, prerequisites.

As an aside, I have to ask since when did being gay have anything to do with wearing dresses? I can remember a time when to suggest that gay men should dress as women was considered ignorant and insulting (which it is). It's not long ago that schoolboys would have nominated a gay student for homecoming queen as a deliberate insult. Gay campaigners have spent many years disassociating themselves from transvestites and drag queens and the stereotypes of gay men mincing around in high heels and lesbians wearing combat fatigues. Sure, some gay men are transvestites, but so are some straight men. I would be willing to bet good money that there are gay students at Vanderbilt University who are horrified by what Mr Moran is doing. The result of all the progress that has been made over the last few decades is that openly gay men now stand a decent chance of being crowned homecoming king. And now idiots like Moran are going to undo all that good, while claiming to be fighting the good fight.

If these guys want to wear dresses instead of tuxedos, fair enough. But don't try and tell me it's something to do with human rights for homosexuals, 'cause it really isn't.

Monday 29 November 2004

I like to think I'm a connoisseur.

A connoisseur of human stupidity, that is. It's just great. And there's so much of it about.

In this weekend's Observer comes the news that Merthyr Tidfil Borough Council are to ban the use of the word "brainstorm", as it could be offensive to people with mental disabilities or brain damage. The Royal Mail, by the way, don't allow their employees to use the word "handicap" — not only to describe disabled people, but when talking about golf, for instance — because its origin, apparently, is "cap in hand", so it has connotations of begging. I've been saying for ages that it's only a matter of time before someone bans the word "sinister" because it's offensive to left-handed people. I used to think I was joking, but am quickly coming to the conclusion that it really will happen. This inability to tell the difference between a word's origin, its meaning, and its connotations is compounded by a total ignorance of etymology (hello, Merthyr Borough Council), so that one Scottish police force banned the use of the phrase "rule of thumb", despite the fact that the story of its sexist origin is an urban myth. See also: "niggardly".

If you, too, are a connoisseur of human stupidity, then you might want to subscribe to This is True, a free weekly litany of idiocy. This week's brings us, first of all, a tale of bureaucrats being, unusually for their kind, a tad overzealous in their enforcement of the rules:

She'd already signed the precinct register when an election worker said her Bush-Cheney T-shirt amounted to illegal electioneering. So Debbie Dupeire pulled it off.

Dupeire, who voted in a sports bra, exercise pants and flip-flops, said she was afraid she would lose her chance to vote if she left to turn her shirt inside-out: the elections workers might not remember her, or might be away on break when she returned.

"I really thought it was OK to wear my shirt. I didn't go there to cause trouble," said Debbie Dupeire, a 38-year-old makeup artist from Jefferson who said she always votes.

Under state law, candidates' names cannot be displayed within 500 feet of a polling place.

Having failed to enforce the rules by letting her into the building in the first place, couldn't they just have let her vote and go? Any damage her advertising might theoretically have done had already been done during the fifteen minutes she was standing in the queue. By the time they spotted the infraction, it was already too late. Quite apart from making this woman's life unnecessarily difficult, they gave Bush some brilliant advertising here. Who, while standing in line to vote, will change their mind about who to vote for because they see someone wearing a T-shirt? No-one. Who, while standing in line to vote, will change their mind about who to vote for because they see an attractive Bush supporter whip off her T-shirt and vote in her bra? Well, at least half the young men in the area, I'd have thought. As usual, in insisting on the letter of the law, these idiots completely undermined its intention. (How do I know she's attractive? Because she took off her top in public. It doesn't matter what she looks like: such behaviour is inherently attractive.)

Secondly, there's this:

Police responding to a crash in Amherst, N.Y., reported finding both occupants of the vehicle unconscious in the back seat. According to their investigation, the married couple was driving home from a restaurant when the husband, Tiber L. Csapo Jr., 39, pulled over and punched his wife in the face. He resumed driving but continued beating her. She jumped into the back seat, but he followed her, whereupon the driverless vehicle ran off the road into heavy brush.

The truly amazing thing is that this man, at one point in his past, attempted courtship and succeeded. Quite a catch.

Sunday 28 November 2004

The fixations of my subconscious.

The night before last, I dreamt that the spelling of the word "if" was to be changed to "iv". There were government adverts on TV, informing us all of how to use the new word and to remember to use the new spelling. It was part of the whole Chip & PIN thing, for some reason, and it was being done to prevent any confusion with "I've".

I'm still trying to work out whether it was just the usual stupid random dream crap or a brilliant commentary on the state of the world today.

Thursday 25 November 2004

Statist idiocy.

Here's a nice little story in The Scotsman:

A TEENAGER who suffered permanent facial disfigurement from scalding hot bath water when he was a baby yesterday went to the Scottish Parliament to campaign for greater protection for the public.

Darren Ferguson, 17, from Stenhousemuir, appeared before Holyrood’s public petitions committee to call for regulations to ensure thermostats - which prevent tap water reaching scalding point - be installed in new buildings and renovated properties from May next year.

Mr Ferguson, who has undergone 59 major operations, numerous minor operations and laser surgery since being scalded on the face and chest by bath water when he was just six-months-old, said the thermostatic device cost just £80, but could save lives and prevent suffering.

He told the committee: "How can anyone say that years of mental and physical pain, a lifetime of disfigurement and the huge costs to the National Health Service are not worth an investment of £80 to save children and families in the future having to endure all that I and my family have had to suffer?"

Sounds sensible enough, doesn't it? Of course, right-wing bastards like me might make some preposterous claim about how it's the responsibility of parents not to pour boiling water onto their children, not the responsibility of the government to ensure we all live in a giant padded bubble, or we might point out the statistical fallacy in comparing all the costs to the NHS of treating every single scald victim to the cost of the device (but not of fitting it) required to prevent scalds in just one household, but everyone knows our real agenda is just to Oppress The Poor.

But, quite apart from the rights and wrongs of ever-greater state intrusion into our lives, there is another problem:

  • Destroying the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease requires raising the temperature of water to at least 140°F (60°C).
  • But, at the temperature 140°F (60°C), water can cause third-degree burns in children in one second and adults in five seconds.

When I worked at British Gas Services, we were taught a very simple rule about central heating systems: if the water from the hot water tap doesn't burn you, it's dangerously cold.

Unfortunately, The Scotsman's article is a bit vague about this "thermostatic device", so we don't know whether they're talking about a thermostatic mixing valve, which is a genuine solution to the problem, or just any old thermostat. Thing is, I suspect the Scottish Executive don't know either. I wonder how much of our money they'll spend on finding out?

Are you a scientist?

Some of us are, some of us aren't, but a lot of us occupy that big grey area: we don't work in labs, maybe we didn't study much science at school, but we know the difference between proof and evidence, we understand the scientific method, and we can spot bullshit statistics a mile off. Where is the dividing line? At what point can we say that these people are scientists, while these others are not?

Well, I have a simple test. Read this:

It has ... become increasingly apparent that physical "reality", no less than social "reality", is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific "knowledge", far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities.


But all this is only a first step: the fundamental goal of any emancipatory movement must be to demystify and democratize the production of scientific knowledge, to break down the artificial barriers that separate "scientists" from "the public". Realistically, this task must start with the younger generation, through a profound reform of the educational system. The teaching of science and mathematics must be purged of its authoritarian and elitist characteristics, and the content of these subjects enriched by incorporating the insights of the feminist, queer, multiculturalist and ecological critiques.


Finally, the content of any science is profoundly constrained by the language within which its discourses are formulated; and mainstream Western physical science has, since Galileo, been formulated in the language of mathematics. But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, "neither logic nor mathematics escapes the 'contamination' of the social." And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic: "mathematics is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other." Thus, a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics. As yet no such emancipatory mathematics exists, and we can only speculate upon its eventual content. We can see hints of it in the multidimensional and nonlinear logic of fuzzy systems theory; but this approach is still heavily marked by its origins in the crisis of late-capitalist production relations. Catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis.

If you laughed, you're a scientist.

This dates back to 1996, apparently, though this is the first I've heard of it (hey, I can't know everything). The above quotes are from a paper written by the physicist Alan Sokal in order to demonstrate that postmodern humanities academics, when they talk about science, talk utter bollocks. He submitted the piece for publication by Social Text, the editors failed to spot an extremely obvious piss-take, and published it, proving his point. Ha!

Anyway, in a roundabout sort of a way, this brings us back to my earlier post about how to pass the Turing Test:

It has always been assumed that the way to pass the Turing Test was to develop an astoundingly clever computer. Turns out that it can be done far more quickly and easily by raising an entire generation of astoundingly stupid humans with no grasp of grammar or coherence.

I now realise that there's yet another way of doing it: encourage a clique of self-congratulating academics who are highly intelligent and have a perfectly good grasp of grammar and coherence, who cynically use their intelligence specifically to eradicate coherence from their own writings. Here's the random Postmodernism Generator:

"Society is part of the failure of truth," says Lacan; however, according to Hanfkopf , it is not so much society that is part of the failure of truth, but rather the defining characteristic, and subsequent paradigm, of society. Thus, many theories concerning neocapitalist feminism may be revealed. Marx promotes the use of expressionism to deconstruct capitalism.


It could be said that the premise of Marxist capitalism suggests that consensus comes from the collective unconscious. The subject is interpolated into a neocultural dematerialism that includes culture as a reality.


If one examines expressionism, one is faced with a choice: either reject neocapitalist feminism or conclude that reality, surprisingly, has objective value. However, if expressionism holds, we have to choose between Derridaist reading and dialectic subtextual theory. The subject is contextualised into a expressionism that includes art as a whole.

Can you tell the difference between that and the real thing?

(But, then, what is "real"? And is it right for us to impose our concept of "difference", thus privileging some ideas over other, equally valid, concepts? Surely, elevating one set of essays as having an objective reality denies other essays their own internal realities, thus denoting them as the Other and oppressing their inherent challenge to the cultural hegemony of those who monopolise the discourse of "reality". OK; I'll stop now.)

Wednesday 24 November 2004

A problem with consistency.

This is old news, from back in May of this year, though it's still topical: it's an account of the climate of Jew-hatred at UC Berkely, and is all too sadly familiar to anyone who's spent more than a minute in the company of a modern leftist discussing Israel. (There are some notable and laudable exceptions to the modern left-wing tendency to hate Jews, but they appear to be a minority these days, at least in Europe and in academia.)

Weinberg graduates this month as a student whose days at Cal were marked by what he calls "pinnacles of horror," in the pinched tone of a man betrayed. He remembers pro-Palestinian protesters insisting that Israeli border crossings are as bad as Nazi death camps. He remembers the glass front door of Berkeley's Hillel building -- where he attends Friday night services -- shattered by a cinderblock, with the message FUCK JEWS scrawled nearby. He remembers the spray-painted swastikas discovered one Monday morning last September on the walls of four lecture rooms in LeConte Hall accompanied by the chilling bilingual message, "Die, Juden."

But you have to understand ... if only Israel would stop its oppressive ... root causes ... occupation ... no alternative ... grievances ... resistance ... justified....

Anyway, the piece includes an account of the protests against Daniel Pipes when he arrived at the university to give a speech. I felt compelled to comment on this snippet:

As campus police assembled at the entrance to the hall and prepared to open its doors, a kaffiyeh-clad protester hoisted a placard that read: "What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct." The quote was attributed to Mahatma "Ghandi" in 1938, albeit a decade before there was an Israel. A silver-haired man, older than most in the crowd, burst out of the line to confront him.

"Do you know what it's like to be on a bus, and to see that bus blow up and see heads roll down the street?" the older man shouted, arms wild at his sides. "I've seen it -- in Israel."

The sign-bearer stood firm. "Well, they should have been killed," he yelled, his voice rising. "They should have been killed! They should have been killed because it wasn't their land! They should have been killed and it should have been more."

"You don't know history," the older man yelled. "You don't know anything."

The protester gave as good as he got: "You can leave. Get your ass out of here and back to Israel."

Back to Israel? Gosh. Regardless of what one might think of this protestor's views, one can't help but notice that he is dooming himself to a life of dissatisfaction through his desires for (a) Jews to get out of Israel, and (b) Jews to go back to Israel.

Errors or enemies?

For the last few weeks, lots of people who supported the removal of Saddam have started to pepper their speech with qualifications and back-pedalling, some even going so far as to support John Kerry in the election. The idea seems to be that, while, yes, it was right to invade Iraq in principle, if only it could have been done under an administration that hadn't fucked it up. There was no planning for post-war Iraq; the Iraqi army should never have been dismissed; Fallujah should have been dealt with sooner, or possibly later, but not just now; the blundering Yanks know nothing about peace-keeping, unlike us Brits, with our experience of defeating Northern Irish terrorists by making them Minister for Education.

None of this has rung true for me. It always struck me that war isn't as neat and easy as a lot of commentators seem to think it should be. Paul Wolfowitz puts it better than I can:

People make a lot about the decision to dismiss the Iraqi army. But I don’t think people are shooting at Americans and blowing up schools because we dismissed the Iraqi army. When people talk about why Iraq is as difficult as it is, they always start and finish with a list of American mistakes. Nobody ever talks about the enemy. It would be like saying why the battle of the bulge was tough without ever mentioning the German army.

Well, of course. The anti-war crowd don't just avoid mentioning the enemy: they don't want to admit that the enemy even is an enemy; in fact, they find the whole concept of "enemy" rather outmoded. Unless they're talking about Bush or Blair, of course: they're the enemy.

It is a great shame that the anti-warriors have had such success: no, they didn't stop the war, thank God, but they have succeeded, largely thanks to the media, in defining the terms of the debate. So here we are in the ridiculous situation where anyone who mentions the well documented links between Saddam and terrorism is regarded as stark staring mad, and all debate about the success or failure of the war — even amongst those who support the US — is framed in terms of American competence versus American incompetence, with no thought given to the actions, or even the existence, of the enemy.

Saddam Hussein didn’t stop fighting us, at least until he was captured in December last year. Al-Zarqawi didn’t surrender when Baghdad fell. He stepped up his efforts. There are all these organisations that are unheard of in Europe and barely known in the U.S. that people ought to know about. There was the M-14 division of the Iraqi intelligence service, its so-called “anti-terrorism” division, which specialised in hijackings and bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. There was the M-16 division, which perfected new bombing techniques. Many of these guys are out in Falluja and Ramadi in the western parts of Iraq today making bombs. A fellow named Abu Ibrahim spent 20 years in Iraq developing these techniques. He can fashion plastic explosives in the shape of decorative wall hangings. He was putting bombs in suitcases on American airplanes in 1982. If you don’t understand that the people who killed and raped and murdered and tortured for 35 years are not quitting and still think they can win, then you won’t understand what we’re fighting.


Tuesday 23 November 2004

Passing the Turing Test.

Everyone's going on about this little work of genius:

It is rather fun.

I have two observations. Firstly, I reckon this passes the Turing Test, which is interesting, because it isn't that good. It has always been assumed that the way to pass the Turing Test was to develop an astoundingly clever computer. Turns out that it can be done far more quickly and easily by raising an entire generation of astoundingly stupid humans with no grasp of grammar or coherence.

Secondly, it told me this earlier:

As a nudist, I am unkempt.

Cue the mighty Random Surrealism Generator:

I never tire of that thing.


(Just in case you hadn't already worked it out) it'll give you a different message every time you refresh the page.

Friday 19 November 2004

Oo, sauce.

My first post at The Daily Bread is up. It's about how to make a nice creamy sauce for tortelloni.

That is all.

Wednesday 17 November 2004


Mark Holland links to this:

Research conducted by award-winning U.S. scientist Nathan Zohner concluded that roughly 86 percent of the population supports a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Although his results are preliminary, Zohner believes people need to pay closer attention to the information presented to them regarding Dihydrogen Monoxide. He adds that if more people knew the truth about DHMO then studies like the one he conducted would not be necessary.

A similar study conducted by U.S. researchers Patrick K. McCluskey and Matthew Kulick also found that nearly 90 percent of the citizens participating in their study were willing to sign a petition to support an outright ban on the use of Dihydrogen Monoxide in the United States.

... which is one hell of a lot more subtle than, but inevitably reminds me of, this:

Unlike traditional water bottling facilities who bottle water only from one specific region, we have designed an innovative blending system that harnesses and compresses the benefits of waters ranging from the French Alps to the Rocky Mountains. Our 27-step process bonds the molecules and rigorously blends the waters together. It then secretes the water molecules and harvests them for the final stage. Once ready, the substance is introduced to the environment and the excess vapors are released. The remaining substance is pure, natural, dehydrated water.


Accounting fictions and welfare.

In the comments of my post about neds, The Candidate says:

Hari's problem is that he doesn't make the vital distinction between ordinary decent working class people and the underclass. The former aren't scared of a bit of work and object as much as the middle classes to their taxes subsidising the plasma screens and super sized Big Macs of the chav.

It is the blurring of these boundaries that has undermined the good (albeit antiquated) intentions of the welfare state - the difference between a safety net of last resort for those genuinely falling on bad times and a gravy train for the chav scum.

This is certainly true, but it isn't the whole problem. The really big problem is that the welfare state is run by accountants. Let me explain.

National insurance contributions are taken out of my wages every month. (I have no problem with the government offering a national insurance scheme, by the way, but I think it should be optional.) In return for those contributions, I get certain benefits: six months of dole money if I'm unemployed, incapacity benefit if I get so ill I can't work, etc. Fair enough. Where it all goes wrong is the way national insurance works for people who are long-term unemployed, like I very nearly was this year.

What the government do is, instead of just giving you, say, £55 of unemployment benefit, they give you £60 benefit while simultaneously taking away £5 national insurance contribution. This is obviously just an accounting fiction to keep the books balanced, right? You never, at any stage, give the government £5: they're just moving money from one account to another. The idea is that, if you're unemployed for two years, then get a job, but then get made redundant after four months, you will still qualify for unemployment benefit — which is fair enough. The problem arises because the accountants who run the benefit system treat this simple little book-keeping entry as The Absolute Truth. As far as the government are concerned, you have indeed given them money, and they treat it as income — and they treat you as if you're paying them. Conversely, if you don't claim benefits, they treat you as if you're not paying them.

Last year, Vic (my wife) changed jobs. As it happened, there were two weeks between one job finishing and the next beginning. No problem: we could easily afford the tiny shortfall in income. It hardly seemed worth bothering the government with. Big mistake.

We now know that, as far as the government are concerned, Vic's national insurance contributions are not up to date, so she doesn't qualify for any benefit in the event of her losing her job or being unable to work due to illness (which is a very real danger, as she is diabetic). She's been paying national insurance and income tax nearly every week since sometime in 1996, but, because she missed two weeks' payments last year, she doesn't qualify. But here's where it gets silly. If she had signed on and claimed dole money during those two weeks, her payments would be up to date and she would qualify for benefit, because the government would have a book-keeping entry marked "national insurance contribution". In other words, the more money you take away from the government, the more money they believe that you have given them. They actually penalise you for not claiming benefits.

I was unemployed for most of the first half of this year (I got a job about a week before my benefits ran out and I became officially long-term unemployed). As far as the government are concerned, my national insurance contributions are up to date, because I was "paying" them the entire time I was unemployed. If I had only been unemployed for one month (which was the plan), I might not have bothered claiming benefit, and would therefore not be due any benefit now. Here are some very rough estimates of the figures involved:

Scenario A: unemployed for 6 months, employed for 6.
I claim approximately £1430 in benefits; I pay (assuming my current salary) approximately £770 in national insurance contributions.

Scenario B: unemployed for 1 month, employed for 11.
I claim approximately £240 in benefits; I pay about £1410 in national insurance contributions.

As far as the government are concerned, I pay them exactly the same amount in scenarios A and B. But then there's

Scenario C: unemployed for 1 month without claiming benefits, employed for 11.
As before, I pay about £1410 in national insurance contributions. But, this time, as far as the government are concerned, I pay them less money than in either scenario B or scenario A, because I fail to claim money from them.

Earlier this year, Vic got a letter from the government giving her the option of bringing her contributions up to date by paying the shortfall. Think about that for a moment: she can make up for not having taken money from the government by giving them money.

The moral is simple. The only way to be absolutely sure of qualifying for benefits is by never working. If you think that you might ever have any need to claim them, start early and don't stop.

Tuesday 16 November 2004

Compounding stupidity with obstinacy.

Maria Alquilar is an artist from Florida. She was recently paid $40,000 to put a ceramic mural on the side of the new library in Livermore, California. The mural features portraits of historical figures with their names spelt incorrectly. That wasn't the city council's intention when they commissioned the work, of course. It's just that Alquilar can't spell.

That alone is no reason to suppose she's stupid, of course. Some people use their intelligence to get good at spelling; others use it to become adept at making large-scale ceramic works of art, and that's fair enough. No, what makes it abundantly clear that this woman is thick as mince is her reaction.

She had planned to fly to California and put the missing "n" back in Einstein and remove the extra "a" in Michelangelo, among other fixes. But after receiving a barrage of what she called "vile hate mail," Alquilar said Livermore is off her travel itinerary and there'll be no changes by her artistic hand.

"No, I will not return to Livermore for any reason," Alquilar, of Miami, told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "There seems to be so much hatred within certain people. They continuously look for a scapegoat. I guess I am the sacrificial goat."

Yes, as far as Alquilar is concerned, the spelling mistakes are someone else's fault. She made the mural, she designed the mural, she put the incorrectly-spelled names in the mural, but someone else is to blame for the misspellings in the mural. Either that or she doesn't know what "scapegoat" means.

Now, why would she have got hate mail? Well, being a sensitive artistic type, maybe she's exaggerating a bit: maybe it was more disdain mail than hate mail. Or maybe it's got something to do with this:

She previously told officials in Livermore, about 40 miles east of San Francisco, that she would fix the 11 misspellings. She asked for $6,000 plus travel expenses to correct the work they paid her $40,000 to create. The city council, faced with the embarrassing prospect of leaving the typo-strewn work in front of its spanking new library, voted 3-2 to approve the expenditure.

She's happy to take $40,000 of taxpayers' money, but doesn't think that such a sum carries with it any responsibility whatsoever. She thinks that she should be allowed to charge extra — a lot extra — just to fix her own fuck-ups. And she doesn't understand why the people she's extorting might take a bit of a disliking to her. And then she thinks that, when she throws a tantrum and leaves her patrons in the shit, this demonstrates how principled she is.

Alquilar explained that it took her a lot of time and money to create the work

Yes, and? She has chosen to do this for a living, so obviously it takes time. So does my job. So does Elton John's. As for the money it took, that, lest we forget, was provided to her by someone else. The amount of money this work cost her is smaller than the amount she charged for it. This work didn't cost her money; it made her money. Does she really not understand this?

She noted that plenty of people from the city were on hand during the installation who could and should have seen the errant spellings, she said.

Yes, they probably should, but that doesn't mean that she shouldn't have. And, at the end of the day, she had more responsibility for this than anyone else. I don't notice her volunteering to pay any of her profits to these other people who she says had full responsibility for her spelling.

The mistakes wouldn't even register with a true artisan, Alquilar said before deciding to leave the work as is.

"The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake's concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words," she told The AP.

Which kind of makes you wonder why she put the words in at all. Here's something from her own website:

Maria believes that the most important elements that should exist in a Public Art Work are the following:

  1. The work must have universal appeal for the users of the site on all levels, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
  2. The users of the site should be considered at the planning stage.
  3. The visitors to the site must be able to interact with the art at one or more of the aforementioned levels.

So, does this work of hers have universal appeal on an intellectual level for the staff and patrons of a library, do you think?

Bizarre etymology.

This is fascinating: an account of one man's confusing quest to find out why turkeys are named after a country from which they do not come.

So how did such a creature end up taking its name from a medium sized country in the Middle East? Was it just a coincidence? I wondered.

The next day I mentioned my musings to my landlord, whose wife is from Brazil. “That’s funny,” he said, “In Portuguese the word for turkey is ‘peru.’ Same bird, different country.” Hmm.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to go straight to the source. That very afternoon I found myself a Turk and asked him how to say turkey in Turkish. “Turkey?” he said. “Well, we call turkeys ‘hindi,’ which means, you know, from India.” India? This was getting weird.

I spent the next few days finding out the word for turkey in as many languages as I could think of, and the more I found out, the weirder things got. In Arabic, for instance, the word for turkey is “Ethiopian bird,” while in Greek it is “gallapoula” or “French girl.” The Persians, meanwhile, call them “buchalamun” which means, appropriately enough, “chameleon.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

The great cop-out.

Somewhere down south, Frank McGahon has an argument with Diana Pérez García. Diana objects to being described as a supporter of the creed of Mao and Stalin just because she describes herself as a Communist. Perhaps she isn't aware that Communism was the creed of Mao and Stalin. But probably not. More likely, she's one of the thousands of modern-day Communists who insist that, once they succeed in having their revolution and bringing about a new Communist state, it won't, unlike every Communist state that has ever existed, quickly turn into a living hell, because their Communism is proper Communism. The world has never seen a true Communist state, they earnestly tell us.

I disrespectfully disagree.

Communists who claim not to support Stalin or Mao miss the point. Before Lenin even took power, plenty of people predicted that Communism would inevitably lead to atrocity. The reason they were able to make that prediction is that the seeds of atrocity are sown in the ideology itself. Atrocities didn't occur despite Communism; they happened because of it. It would be easy to disprove this if it weren't true: just point out the Communist state which isn't a waking nightmare for its inhabitants. The point is that you don't have to support Stalin when you're supporting the introduction of a system that inevitably leads to Stalin. And, if you succeed in introducing that system, your eventual protestations to the victims that you had no idea what was coming will sound especially weak in the light of the repeated lessons you refused to learn from history and the repeated warnings you dismissed as slander.

Giving the dead their due respect.

Further to my post about Arafat's death, here's John Ihle putting it a little less politely:

Over the next few days, as world leaders cravenly lick shit right out of Arafat's putrid anus, please remember that he pioneered airline hijacking and school massacres and that he sent his goons around the world to kill Jews wherever they were, whether athletes in Munich or crippled pensioners on holiday in the Mediterranean. And rejoice that the world's biggest mass murderer of Jews since Hitler did not live to see his most fervent wish fulfilled: the people of Israel live.


Those crazy antipodeans.

Dogs are just great, as any fule kno. But some poor souls are allergic to them. What to do?

Well, an enterprising Australian called Wally Cochran came up with the idea of crossing poodles, which don't shed and therefore don't set off people's allergies, with labradors, which are cute and dopy and friendly and fun. The result is a breed of dog that makes the perfect family pet and is totally safe for asthmatics.

But none of that is what I'm blogging about. No, the important thing is that, being Australian, Wally named this new breed the labradoodle. Is that just the greatest word in the English language, or what?

Sunday 14 November 2004

We are surrounded by danger.

In these times of war, terrorism, and Eighties-retro fashion, here's RavenBlog on the threat we all face:

On my way back through town today ... I suddenly realised that insects are scary. Not individual insects, which are mostly pathetic nonentities, but the insect mob. If they all got together on their insect radios and decided to stage an assault all at once we as a race would have no chance.

In the garden and paths of the house I live in, I'm pretty sure there are enough ants to completely cover both residents and the guest, and that's even without the mites and aphids and such joining in. One assumes that most similar-sized gardens are similarly infested with creatures, and thus that every suburb-dweller is doomed by just the contents of their own back yard. I'm assuming here that ants are poisonous enough that being completely covered in them all biting at once would be fatal, which I suppose might not be the case. But they could always just bite again. We have one can of insect spray, which is enough to get rid of maybe ten columns of ants, which is nothing in the big picture.

We could all hide in bank vaults, I suppose.

Friday 12 November 2004

Johann Hari is wrong.

Here's the angry young man's latest diatribe. It's about as insightful as gravel.

Mr Hari's argument can be summed up thusly:

All poor white people are chavs.
All chavs are poor and white.
It is wrong to hate people for being poor.
Therefore, anyone who criticises chavs is a hateful elitist classist bastard.

Assuming The Independent pay by the word, they should hire me instead.

Now, I don't call them "chavs". I lived in Glasgow from '96 to '03, and Scots call them "neds". In fact, when I first moved to Scotland, the Scots had the word "ned" while the English simply didn't have a word to describe them at all. I don't know why they eventually chose "chav", but I prefer "ned". I'm now in Northern Ireland, where they're called "steeks" and "spides". "Spide" is pretty good: it just sounds inherently derogatory.

I'm not poor, but I'm not that well-off, either. I can't afford a ned car, or ned clothes, or the amount of alcohol and cigarettes neds get through every day, not to mention the harder drugs. I can't afford to take the amount of time off work that neds seem to enjoy. Contrary to what Hari seems to think, fast food isn't that cheap — certainly not compared to cooking at home. I like the occasional burger or fish supper, but, unlike your average ned, I can't afford to go out for one every day. However, I can (just) afford a mortgage on a three-bedroom house in a fairly expensive area.

During my time in Glasgow, my building was set alight by neds three times, once seriously endangering my life. The reason for this was so that ned kids could try and jump onto the back of the fire engine when it left. Windows in the common stairwell were smashed by neds a couple of times, just for fun, like. The communal front door was kicked in by neds. Before we finally managed to get the communal stairs secured, they were a popular location for neds to come and drink, smoke dope, scrawl their names, smoke heroin, inject heroin, occasionally spit at my friends, and — on one memorable occasion — have a crap. My then girlfriend and I once walked out of the front door to be greeted by the wonderful sight of a ned standing on the stairs with his trousers round his knees, injecting heroin into his penis. The ned living in the ground floor flat threatened my life a couple of times, but he wasn't there long: his landlord got rid of the bastard and replaced him with an extremely nice, friendly, reasonable, poor single mother who was definitely not a ned and didn't want her sons to become neds.

Eric's got the right idea, as has Harry, despite feeling he needs to descend into Marxist terminology to describe the problem. It took a heroic effort to read past the word "lumpenproletariat", I can tell you. Please.

Anyway, here's the thing. Everyone hates neds, but the people who hate them by far the most are poor people. Everyone has to put up with the little bastards' vandalism and violence and abuse and theft and bad clothing choices, but poor people also have to put up with being associated with it by class-obsessed idiots like Hari.

Thursday 11 November 2004

Bad science! Bad, naughty, wicked science!

Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column, for those of you that don't already know, is the only thing in The Guardian that is absolutely consistently worth reading. It's brilliant every time. (Though I can't work out why it starts each paragraph with a little dot. Is that to prove it's scientific?) So I'm now going to break the habit of, oh, quite a few weeks by totally disagreeing with it.

Here's last week's column:

· For a bloke who looks a lot like a monkey, George W Bush has a strange disdain for evolution. Now, this might all seem very trivial to you, but the Bush administration has decided, just before this week's vote, to stand by its approval for a book that's being sold in National Park museums and bookshops. This book explains to young minds that the Grand Canyon is only a couple of thousand years old, and was created by Noah's flood, rather than by geological forces.

· Lo! Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston heroically intervened and referred the sale of the book to his superiors but they sinisterly kept it on the shelves. They also appear to have ignored a letter from the presidents of the Palaeological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Geological Institute, the Geological Society of America, and more, all pointing out that the book was nonsense. And they told Congress that they'd have a review of whether they were going to sell the book, and then calmly didn't bother.

Now, I believe in evolution, I'm an atheist, and I think this book should be sold, for three simple reasons: firstly, people want to sell it; secondly, people want to buy it; thirdly, freedom of speech. Really, what's the big deal? Has there been any suggestion that National Park museums and bookshops should be prohibited from selling books that explain evolution? Nope. All that's happened is that a book that puts forward a theory as if it's fact has been approved for sale. What's the alternative? That we ban all books that contain theories presented as facts? That would stop the Bible, Torah, and Koran, certainly, but it would rule out rather a lot of science textbooks, too, wouldn't it? I'm a big fan of David Attenborough's documentaries. They regularly present theory as fact, and I don't think that's any reason to stop anywhere selling them.

When the theory of evolution was first proposed, it was regarded by most people as sheer lunacy, as well as being blasphemous in an overwhelmingly Christian society. Despite that, it has managed to gain mainstream acceptance. The reason it has done so well is that it is a brilliant scientific theory: it explains observed facts more simply than any other theory; it accurately predicts results; it has given rise to genetic engineering, which, whether you approve of it or not, undoubtedly works. There is a huge amount of evidence in its favour, and it is almost certainly correct. The reason the theory has grown to be accepted by so many people is not that the government foisted it on us and banned dissent.

When Galileo proposed that the Earth orbits the Sun, not only were the Church against him, but they had absolute control of the state. The Church made the law, and could have you killed for breaking it. People were tortured to death for blasphemy or for opposing the Church. And what happened? His theory gained widespread acceptance. There are two lessons here. The first is that good theories will overcome obstacles. The second is that government-backed theories are perfectly capable of failure.

Richard Dawkins himself wrote that, when he first heard the theory of evolution, he immediately recognised it as utter bollocks. It was, to him, clearly untrue. Like millions of other people, he changed his mind, because he came to understand that it was a better theory than its alternatives. As far as I'm aware, he has never claimed to have changed his mind because the government forced him to.

Anti-evolutionists believe something that is not true, but they're not stupid. They have learnt these lessons, which is why they developed Creationism: it's supposed to be able to compete with scientific theories on their own territory. It mainly fails, of course, because it is not truly a scientific theory; it's just dressed up to look like one; but its very existence acknowledges (ironically enough) that ideas need to compete to survive. That used to be a bedrock of science, but scientists have abandoned it of late. They no longer want their theories to have to compete against others. They want opposing theories to be banned and theirs to be state-mandated. This is bad for science, and its bad for society.

If the presidents of the Palaeological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Geological Institute, and the Geological Society of America were to receive letters from fundamentalist Christians telling them that their books were nonsense, do you think they'd stop selling them? Do you think they should?

Of course, this is just a book for sale. What about the teaching of Creationism in some schools in America, that gets scientists so het up? Well, I'm all for it. The major priority of any scientific education should be to teach children the scientific method. Instead, most science teaching consists of facts that Thou Shalt Know. Teach children the scientific method, teach them how theories are developed and how they compete, teach them about great scientific theories that were proven wrong; and then you can send them into the world at least reasonably confident that they'll spot bullshit like Creationism for what it is. There is, of course, a caveat to that: while I have no problem with Creationism being taught in schools, it should not be taught in science classes, for the same reason that physics should not be taught in French classes.

Failing sensible science education policies, the USA has a rather brilliant safety mechanism, in the form of local democracy. Education decisions usually only apply to small districts. Even if an entire state (yes, you, Kansas) bans the teaching of evolution and replaces it with Creationism or Bible studies, so what? Other states don't have to follow suit. People can move state if they wish. And, in the federal system, as in science, bad ideas have to compete or die. What do you think will happen when an entire generation of children from one state get lower SAT scores, fewer places in worse universities, no lucrative jobs in the science or technology sectors; when local technology firms find they can't get any new employees who understand the work and start shutting down and moving state, causing job losses? The people in that state will vote to reintroduce evolution to the curriculum. And, being Americans, they'll actually have the power to do so. People aren't so stupid that they have to wait and see all that happen, though: when the Kansas state education board deleted evolution from curriculums in 1999, it took only two years for the decision to be reversed. Even in the Bible Belt, Creationism's just not as popular as some would have you believe.

Anyway, I'm thankful that Mr Goldacre redeems himself with this:

But if it's back doors to enlightenment you're after, you need look no further than Bach Flower Remedies' new Yoga in a Bottle, which has several marketing advantages over real yoga: mainly, it requires the deployment of absolutely no exercise. Its only side effect is to eradicate the opportunity for meeting nice women at yoga class, but if you're so physically non-viable that you've decided to buy yoga in a bottle, then you probably gave up any hope of action between the sheets several years ago, you decadent, obese, lazy, pathetic, unfit, feckless, unmotivated moron.

That's what I like to see.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

So Arafat's dead. Shame.

I'm going to have to avoid the news over the next few days. I don't think I can bear to watch world leaders earnestly mourning the passing of the inventor of modern terrorism; a man who filled schools with books teaching children that Jews are subhuman and deserve death and that killing them is so important that it's worth dying for; a man who believed that it was more important to kill Jews than to make peace; a man who took millions of dollars of aid intended to help "his" people and kept it for himself; a man who used children as human shields; a man who had people executed without trial for the crime of talking to Jews; a man who would have his rivals beaten to death in the street and hung from lamp-posts; the man responsible for killing Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Excuse me while I spit.

Good luck to the Palestinians. Their biggest obstacle to statehood, security, democracy, and peace has just been removed. I hope they can manage to take the opportunities now in front of them without having to have a civil war first.

Wednesday 10 November 2004

Bible-bashing bigots.

As Europeans and the American Left continue to tell each other and everyone else that Bush won the election thanks to the huge voting bloc of fundamentalist Christian, bigotted, gay-hating, racist, Luddite, Creationist idiots, it seems only fair to see what these bloody idiots have to say for themselves. As luck would have it, a couple of million of them have posted their reasons for voting here, so we can witness first-hand the "reasoning" of these strange, unthinking creatures. Marvellous. Of course, this sample isn't definitive — it doesn't include, for instance, the majority of Bush voters who are either too stupid to operate a computer or who believe that computers are evil, and neither does it include any of his large illiterate constituency, unless they were dictating — but it'll just have to do.

Read this, too. Fascinating. The stupid little goblin can barely string his words together. He probably goes to Bible class every evening to burn science books and heavy metal records.

Tuesday 9 November 2004

Yet another reason not to give politicians any power whatsoever.

They keep coming up with this sort of thing:

A Brazilian legislator wants to make it illegal to give pets names that are common among people.

This is one of Brazil's most pressing problems right now. As I understand it, the country has virtually no poverty or crime.

Federal congressman Reinaldo Santos e Silva proposed the law after psychologists suggested ...

Psychologists are behind this? I am shocked, shocked, I say.

... that some children may get depressed when they learn they share their first name with someone's pet, Damarias Alves, a spokeswoman for Silva, said last week.

I have heard reports that some people may get depressed when they learn what their taxes are spent on. Any chance we could legislate against that?

"Names have importance," Alves said. The congressman "wants to challenge people's assumptions that it's acceptable to give animals human names," she said.

Yes, that's government's job: to challenge assumptions.

Being serious for a moment, I do have to admit that I had always just blindly assumed that it was OK to give animals human names. (My wife and I have a dog called Phoebe, and I have had rats named Samantha, Oscar, Katie, and Eliza.) In the light of this story, I have abandoned those assumptions, given the matter some thought, and reached reasoned conclusions. Funnily enough, the conclusions are exactly the same as the assumptions were.

If the law is passed, pet stores and veterinary clinics would be required to display a sign noting the prohibition of human first names for pets.

Brazilians who break the law would be subject to fines or community service.

And then we'd see the rise in Brazil of a hitherto unknown phenomenon: pets who use false names in public.

Alves admitted the law's chances of passage were slim ...

Thank providence and common sense for that. But, if you know it's going to fail, why bother? Proposing doomed legislation costs money, you know.

... but said Silva hoped the bill would call attention to his other efforts to protect animals.

Hang on. This is to protect animals? He said this was to stop children getting depressed. Maybe animals get depressed, too, when they learn that their names are shared by snotty little human brats. Hmm.

"He's proposed many laws to protect wildlife in Brazil, but this is the only one that has ever gotten any attention," Alves said.

Now it's wildlife? How would this law protect wildlife? Eh? How?


Monday 8 November 2004

Great car chases.

A propos of absolutely nothing, here's my list of great car chases in film history. You will see that I'm interpreting "car chase" pretty broadly: they don't all involve cars, but that's a petty detail. They adhere, in my opinion, to the "car chase" form, whatever that is. Feel free to argue, but do bear in mind that I am right.

Chasing the train in The French Connection. Of course. It wasn't in the script: they just did it on a whim. And they didn't even get permission from the police or shut the roads, the mad bastards. Some of the people in that chase are genuine innocent passers-by. Billy Friedkin sat in the passenger seat wrapped in a mattress. He is a maniac. A member of the crew followed with wads of cash to bribe anyone they hit.

The speeder-bike chase in The Return Of The Jedi. That scene alone is why anyone who slags this film off is Wrong.

The bit where they all drive down the hill at the start of Police Story. It's one of those scenes where your mouth just hangs open. Mine did, anyway.

The final one in Terminator 2, starting with a helicopter and culminating with the liquid nitrogen spill.

The one in Terminator 3 with the crane, Arnie hanging on the end of it, looking only mildly annoyed as he is used to demolish building after building.

The Blues Brothers. "I've got to pull over."

The Matrix Reloaded. Flawed, perhaps, but still gob-smacking.

Almost all of Ronin.

The horse and the motorbike in True Lies. Startlingly original and funny with it. Schwarzenegger's repeated apologies just make it. So that's three for Schwarzenegger and two for James Cameron.

The first chase in The Gauntlet. It's not the chase itself that's so amazing; it's just the shock when it starts.

The Dead Pool. It may be a piss-take, but it's also an improvement. Two for Eastwood.

Tomorrow Never Dies. The only Bond that gets in here, for the simple reason that he's driving the car while hiding behind the driver's seat. Pierce Brosnan's look of child-like glee as he plays with his new toy makes this one. They're trying to kill you and you're having fun? Oh, and the music's by the Propellerheads. What more can you ask for? Oh, yeah: a better-looking car.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark. He starts on a horse, he gets dragged under a truck. Ford manages to look like he'd rather be sitting in an armchair with a cup of tea for the entire thing. Class.

The Corruptor. A nail-biting finish, and one of the most sickening portrayals of organised crime ever.

And the end of The Bourne Supremacy. Now the Best Ever, as far as I'm concerned. The Bourne Identity would have been in here, but they thoroughly outdid themselves in the sequel. I'm confident that they'll manage to do even better in the third one. Fingers crossed.

No, I didn't include Bullitt. I just don't think it's all that good. And The Vanishing Point is utter crap. Oo, controversial.

That is all.


I haven't commented on Bush's win yet, because, well, what's to say? The better candidate won, as anyone with half an ounce of sense knew he would. Nyer nyer nyer. But the post-election analysis-cum-bollocks is worth a word or two.

We've been hearing a lot about how Bush's win had nothing to do with the War on Terror and everything to do with gay marriage and extremist evangelical Christianity. Listening to some commentators, it is clear that, over the next four years, Bible study will be made compulsory, Darwinism and abortion will be banned, gay men will be forced to wear yellow armbands, and illegitimate children will be confiscated. Obviously, this is tripe, but it's nice to see that proven with numbers.

In Slate, Paul Freedman writes:

The evidence that having a gay-marriage ban on the ballot increased voter turnout is spotty. Marriage-ban states did see higher turnout than states without such measures. They also saw higher increases in turnout compared with four years ago. But these differences are relatively small. Based on preliminary turnout estimates, 59.5 percent of the eligible voting population turned out in marriage-ban states, whereas 59.1 percent turned out elsewhere. This is a microscopic gap when compared to other factors. ...

It's true that states with bans on the ballot voted for Bush at higher rates than other states. His vote share averaged 7 points higher in gay-marriage-banning states than in other states (57.9 vs. 50.9). But four years ago, when same-sex marriage was but a twinkle in the eye of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bush's vote share was 7.3 points higher in these same states than in other states. In other words, by a statistically insignificant margin, putting gay marriage on the ballot actually reduced the degree to which Bush's vote share in the affected states exceeded his vote share elsewhere.

... the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.

In The New York Times, David Brooks writes:

As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center [whose final poll nailed the election result dead-on] points out, there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year. Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.


Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But that phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.

The reality is that this was a broad victory for the president. Bush did better this year than he did in 2000 in 45 out of the 50 states. He did better in New York, Connecticut and, amazingly, Massachusetts. That's hardly the Bible Belt. Bush, on the other hand, did not gain significantly in the 11 states with gay marriage referendums.

Will any of these inconvenient facts get in the way of left-wing whinging and slander over the next four years? The recount in 2000 never stopped them, so I doubt it. Then again, I reckon all the whinging is at least partly to thank for this year's result, so let them go to it. David Brooks again:

But the same insularity that caused many liberals to lose touch with the rest of the country now causes them to simplify, misunderstand and condescend to the people who voted for Bush. If you want to understand why Democrats keep losing elections, just listen to some coastal and university town liberals talk about how conformist and intolerant people in Red America are. It makes you wonder: why is it that people who are completely closed-minded talk endlessly about how open-minded they are?


Now here's Michelle Malkin, taking apart another popular myth, this time that increased turnout always benefits the Democrats:

It has long been conventional wisdom that nonvoters tend to be liberal, and that getting more people to the polls would be better for Democrats than for Republicans. As social scientists Gerald Wright and Jeanette Morehouse noted, the basis for this logic goes back at least to the formation of the New Deal coalition, where the Democratic Party was able to achieve majority status nationally by expanding its former base in the South to include the poor, unemployed and urban ethnic voters. The implicit assumption has been that modern nonvoters, like their New Deal counterparts, remain disproportionately poor, non-white and predisposed to vote for the Democrats.


And now, we have Election 2004 -- which should put the high turnout-helps-Democrats myth to rest once and for all. Take Missouri, where voter registration was up 10 percent from 2000. President Bush won by a whopping 8-point margin. Take Florida, where black and Hispanic turnout was higher than expected -- and where President Bush won by a convincing 5-point margin.

Over at The Edge Of England's Sword, Drake goes into more detail:

There were 8.5m extra votes for Bush and 4.5m extra for Kerry (over Gore). If we assume no net change among the 2000 voters from Bush to Kerry and visa versa, Bush had to get the lion's share of the extra votes in order to keep parity with Kerry and then overtake him. That sounds bad enough for the Democrats but it is worse: Nader.

Nader dropped 2.5m votes between 2000 and 2004. Where did they go. Sure some went to odd destinations or stayed home but it is pretty clear that, for the purposes of this rough calculation, they all went to Kerry. That would mean that Kerry's real extra votes (i.e. people who voted in 2004 but did not in 2000) were a paltry 2m. That fits the maths of a 10.5m increase in turnout incidentally.

Which means that at the top end, Team Bush delivered 80% of the new voters in this election.

There is an alternative assumption that can be tried, which is where one assumes that Nader's votes went to Kerry and Kerry in turn lost a similar number of Gore voters to Bush. If you do that you credit Kerry with all of his new voters and reduce Bush's by 2.5m. Even when you do that, Team Bush is responsible for 60% of the new voters.

Heh heh heh.


David Aaronovitch writes some emminent common sense on the religious-vote myth and the European reaction to it:

The ayatollah Sistani, representing the Shia of Iraq, is a venerable figure of considerable wisdom; the Reverend Jesse Jackson is all the better for being a man of God. All those lovely gospel choirs! All those Hallelujahs! But the appearance of any (mainly) white religiosity either in America or here sets off an alarm system as clamorous as would have sounded at, say, the appearance of a topless Princess Alexandra in a 1937 travel mag. What can be allowed, happily to those of a different (now, how shall we put this?) culture is the beginning of the end if any of our own lot show similar pious tendencies.


So what about the religious? The populist 'uprising' from the red states noted by Thomas Frank turns out, on inspection, to be more or a less a mirage, a self-inflicted liberal nightmare. Twenty-two per cent placed 'moral values' as the number one voting issue, of whom four- fifths voted for Bush, making around 17 per cent of those voting. Eighty-three per cent of voters did not fall into this camp at all.

Furthermore, the percentage of voters describing themselves as evangelical was the same as in 2000. The proportions in favour or against abortion were no different - 55 per cent are broadly in favour of abortion with 42 per cent opposed. A majority supported either gay marriage (which we do not have here in Britain, or in most countries in Europe) or of gay civil unions. In fact, among these latter, there was a 5 per cent lead for Bush. (Equally unexpectedly, those most scared by terrorism actually voted for Kerry.)

And Harry reminds us all where Christianity really pervades politics:

... isn't it odd that "liberal Britain" is having kittens about the religious right in the United States while hardly raising a murmur about the fact that unelected Bishops are granted an automatic place in our political system or that creationists are being given a role in the education system?

Aaronovitch and Harry are both left-wingers, so perhaps there's hope for the movement yet. Dim, distant, hopelessly outnumbered hope, but hope.

Thursday 4 November 2004


So Osama's back. Here's his speech. Fighting words, maybe, but it looks like a surrender to me.

Let's just compare his demands of a few years ago with his aims today.

1996: Muslim youths should kill Jews, Americans, and Crusaders at every opportunity. All national borders must be removed from within the Middle East, thus restoring the single nation of Arabia. Israel must be destroyed. (I and my men are safe in the impregnable Hindu Kush.)

1998: All Muslims everywhere must kill all Americans and all American allies everywhere, whether military or civilian. The Americans should let Saddam Hussein be.

2004: If you leave us alone, we'll leave you alone. Your electoral system is corrupt. Vote Kerry. The Swedish are safe. I'm a big fan of the work of Michael Moore. (No mention of the Hindu Kush.)

Is it just me, or is that a bit of a climb-down?

Ain't you glad they're dumb?

According to Candice DeLong, "Ain't you glad they're dumb?" is the informal motto of the FBI. Here's an idiot:

A California man is facing rape and kidnapping charges after his alleged victim recently spotted him appearing as a contestant on the NBC reality show "Blind Date." According to cops, Ulrick White, 31, was nabbed Sunday in connection with the September 2003 attack of a 35-year-old Ventura County woman. While cops had been searching for White for a year, it was not until last month when they got a major break in the case. The victim told investigators she was watching TV when she heard a female "Blind Date" contestant refer to White by his nickname, Aswah. After identifying White--and his distinctive Jamaican accent--the woman recorded the remaining portion of the program and provided the videotape to detectives.

Ah, the master criminal's classic mistake. When the police have been after you for a year, don't appear on national television.

Which reminds me: if you've managed to get away with murder, don't discuss it down the pub.

Wednesday 3 November 2004

Harry Stanley.

This seems to be one of those cases where all sides are wrong.

Two officers have been suspended after an inquest jury returned an unlawful killing verdict in the case of an unarmed man shot dead by police.

Harry Stanley, 46, from Hackney, east London, was shot in the head and the hand by the Met officers in 1999.

Mr Stanley was carrying a chair leg in a plastic bag which the two officers thought was a sawn-off shot gun.

Should he have been shot? Clearly not. Should the police officers be punished? They probably should: that's the nature of responsibility, like it or not. Yes, they have to make split-second life-and-death decisions; yes, they were following their training; but the fact that the decision was incredibly difficult doesn't excuse the fact that it was the wrong one — not when the stakes are that high. However, having seen what happened, should other armed police officers have to continue with their jobs? Well, obviously not. There is no requirement for a British police officer to be armed; the armed officers volunteer for firearms duties, and they are perfectly within their rights to unvolunteer. While the two officers who killed Harry Stanley should be held accountable, it does highlight the current situation for armed officers: follow your training, follow standard procedures, and you could find yourself up in court for an unlawful killing with precious little support from your superiors, who gave you the training and wrote the procedures in the first place. So what's the solution?

Well, first of all, most of the controversy surrounding this case is about public perception of the police force. The problem is that not only has this innocent man been killed, but that the police have been doing precious little over the last few years to arrest guilty men and have, in many cases, been helping criminals to victimise innocent civilians (though the police don't see it that way). When a police force who prevent crime and punish criminals harm the occasional innocent passer-by, people are more willing to give them the benefit of some doubt. When a police force who encourage crime and punish victims harm an innocent passer-by, why should the public forgive them?

Let's think, too, about the environment in which this happened. Gun crime is rampant in the UK at the moment, and shows no sign of abating. It is understandable that, in a city full of armed criminals, the police would take no chances with a man carrying what appears to be a gun. They are surrounded by violent crime, and act accordingly. This certainly goes some way towards excusing the actions of the officers. But why is there so much violent crime in the first place? Well, because the CPS do very little to punish violent criminals, letting them back out onto our streets at the earliest opportunity, and because the police absolutely insist that no innocent victims should ever defend themselves, even going so far as to arrest and prosecute anyone who does. So, while the violence of our society may help to excuse the police in cases like this, we should remember that the police have done a lot to help create that violence in the first place. As long as they insist that they are absolutely the only people allowed to act against criminals and to defend the public, they take on the responsibility of doing the job perfectly — not just very well, but perfectly. If they're unwilling to accept that standard, then they have to open the market up to some competition: let us defend ourselves, let us carry guns, and let us act against criminals.

In short, it's the police commissioners and chief constables, the CPS, and the Home Secretary who should be in the dock over this death, not a couple of their pawns.

I was wrong.

Like so many others, I thought Osama Bin Laden was dead. Nope.

So why's he been out of the public eye so long? I reckon he was wounded, and now he's recovered. Damn.

Ach, well. It's important to have an ambition in life. Now our armed forces can look forward to killing the bastard.


I can't find any mention of this on the Web, but it was on the TV news last night. At a bonfire in Londonderry, someone threw on a live dog, with its legs tied up. I drove past Londonderry yesterday. Had I known what was going to happen, I'd've spat out the window. Bastards.