Competition Time!

It\’s Wednesday. Hump Day. So a competition is in order I think.

Merriam Webster is a publisher of dictionaries and reference books and as part of their annual PR campaign ("Buy your three year old daughter a dictionary for Christmas" type thing) they release a list of "Words of the Year". This year\’s number one word is "w00t". OK, so far so fun.

Now, our competition is to try and get their list of ten words into a sentence. You\’ve got to get all ten words into one sentence, it has to actually mean something and extra points are awarded for it being amusing or crude (more for both, of course). I have of course stolen this idea from here. My own entry into that last competition is here.

Arthouse Snuff Movies for the Welsh.

"Do stop being a flibbertigibbet, cease this persniketty kerfuffle, your plethora of expressed discombobulations questions the value of our art, the serendipitous juxtaposition of love unrequited and the onomatopoeiac smack as our callipygian actress lands after her defenestration will win our film a multitude of awards."
"Well, yes," said Dai,"but look you, all I want to know is why is it my sheep that has to jump out the window, see?"

As you can see, you\’re allowed more than one sentence, it\’s just that all of the target words must be in one.

This years\’ ten words are as follows:

1. w00t

  1. facebook
  2. conundrum
  3. quixotic
  4. blamestorm
  5. sardoodledom
  6. apathetic
  7. Pecksniffian
  8. hypocrite
  9. charlatan

You can put your attempt into the comments here or at your own blog, if you have such. The winner will be chosen by acclamation from the crowd. And yes, there will indeed be a prize. Probably a copy of a book I\’ve been sent for review….the winner can discuss exactly which one with me after winning (there\’s a couple of possible choices). Closing date, sometime on the weekend….

Tee Hee

Via, this:

A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates (Paperback)

The book is a promising reference concept, but the execution is somewhat sloppy. Whatever algorithm they used was not fully tested. The bulk of each page seems random enough. However at the lower left and lower right of alternate pages, the number is found to increment directly.


Aren\’t we lucky, lucky, people to be ruled over by such scum?

More than half the Iraqi interpreters who applied to come to live in Britain have had their applications rejected, drawing accusations that the Government is “wriggling out” of its promise to help former Iraqi employees.

The Times has learnt that 125 of the 200 interpreters who took up the offer to resettle in Britain have failed to meet the strict criteria laid down for eligibility.

The revelation challenges Gordon Brown’s pledge in August that the Government would fulfil its “duty of care” to those who had served with British troops.

In three cases seen by The Times, former Iraqi employees were told that they were ineligible because of “absenteeism”.

"Absenteeism"….otherwise known as fleeing for your life.

Safa, 28, one of the rejected interpreters who worked for the British for more than two years, received a letter from the Locally Employed Staff Assistance Office in Basra which said: “We have considered your case very carefully but we are sorry to inform you that, because your service with the British Forces was terminated for absence, you do not meet the minimum employment criteria for this scheme.”

Safa told The Times that he had never resigned but had been forced to stop working after receiving two bullets and a written death threat at his house in Basra in April. Married with one child, he said that he was advised by an army liaison officer and intelligence officials to stay at home until he felt safe.

Brain dead, immoral, scum.

The MoD yesterday insisted that if an Iraqi could prove that he had been absent from work because of intimidation, then he would still be considered. But it emerged that those who have now been turned down for British residency have no right of appeal.

I think I want to vomit.

Remember, this is the shower of shits who insist that you have a moral duty to pay taxes so as to pay their wages.

So which method should we use? The Cauldron seems appropriate.


Jail Him! Jail Him!

There\’s a proposed new law in Germany which is really, well, rather remarkable actually:

Germany\’s parliament is to debate a new law that would effectively ban displays of public affection between under-18s.

The Bill was drawn up to protect children against sexual predators. However, critics fear that it will deprive teenagers of natural experiences and the fun of adolescent relationships.

For example, a 17-year-old boy caught "fondling" someone younger would be liable to prosecution, regardless of whether he has consent.

If the offence happened in a cinema, he would be deemed to have planned the assault by paying for a ticket.

Artists and writers could face up to three months in jail if they create "realistic descriptions of sex among young people".

So that\’s Laurie Lee ready to be jailed then (yes, I know he\’s dead).

You have to wonder whether people think through the implications of the laws they try and pass.

The Lollipop Lady

Ok, this seems fair enough. Lollipop ladies wear reflective coats in order to be seen, so if they\’re not wearing one then they shouldn\’t be doing the lollipop job. I\’m not saying I totally agree, but I can at least see the logic:

A lollipop lady has been banned from wearing festive fancy dress because of safety fears.

But after a complaint by two parents, the city council said she could not take children across the road unless she wore her reflective coat.

So, let\’s have a look at the costume:


Erm, a reflective coat is actually going to be more visible than that? So, no, it\’s no reasonable and the \’elfn\’safety police should burn in hell.

Michael Schumacher: Cabbie

No doubt this story will be all over every paper in the world:

Schumacher, who lives in Switzerland, had flown in to an aerodrome near Coburg, Bavaria, on Saturday and taken a taxi to Gehuelz to pick up a new puppy.

On the 30km (19 mile) return journey, however, Schumacher felt they were short on time, and made a polite request to Mr Yilmaz that he be allowed to take over.

Unsurprisingly, and perhaps with a view to bettering himself professionally, the driver did so.

With his wife, two children and new addition to the family Ed, the Australian Shepherd pup, on board, Schumacher proceeded to put pedal to metal.

Famously, German autobahns have no blanket speed limits, so the driver was able to put the cab through its paces.

Although he was driving an Opel Vivaro, a minivan-style vehicle which has a top speed of 163km (101 miles) per hour, Schumacher managed to get the most out of it, according to the cabbie.

"He drove at full throttle around the corners and overtook in some unbelievable places," said a white-knuckled Mr Yilmaz.

Fun, eh?

Polar Bears Not Endangered!

Climate change ain\’t gonna wipe out the whities!

"We have this specimen that confirms the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago, and this basically means that the polar bear has already survived one interglacial period," explained Professor Ingolfsson.

"And what\’s interesting about that is that the Eeemian – the last interglacial – was much warmer than the Holocene (the present).

"This is telling us that despite the ongoing warming in the Arctic today, maybe we don\’t have to be quite so worried about the polar bear. That would be very encouraging."

Hurrah! So Dance people, Dance with Knut!


Informing Russell Shaw

But as to other reasons for this blanket surrender to home school advocates- I for one, have never understood why.

Because hey are not the State\’s children for the State to educate as it sees fit, nor are they your children for you to educate as you see fit. They are the children of the parents who brought them into the world for those parents to educate as they see fit.


Suffice to say that I\’m reminded of a newspaper cartoon that circulated a few years ago. It featured a mum and a dad and their superbaby, posing together. “Thank God we found the sperm of that astronaut,” the mother said. “Thank God we found the eggs of that supermodel,” the dad said. The superbaby, meanwhile, was looking up at its doting creators. Above its head was a thought bubble: “Who the hell are these stupid, ugly people?”


This symmetry appealed to me because, though Chávez\’s Venezuela is not yet anything like Mugabe\’s Zimbabwe, I cannot help thinking that Mugabe is Chávez\’s possible future, and that the 83-year-old former liberation fighter is the former general\’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Mugabe, like Chávez, took power after elections that were widely agreed to have been fairly conducted. Over time his governing philosophy came to consist of an economic nationalism underpinning a state socialist system, mobilised by exploiting resentment towards a privileged minority (the whites), treacherous elites (journalists) and interfering foreign powers (Britain).


Polly\’s Politics II

Aaaaand, abracadabra!

Ed Balls addressed them yesterday before launching his much-heralded Children\’s Plan in the Commons today. Before his arrival, they were glum: they feared weaselling and prevarication. But once he spoke those vital words, there was an outburst of relief and applause.

He committed the government unequivocally to hitting its 2010 target for halving child poverty, and abolishing it by 2020. "It is not going to be easy," he said, but "we\’re not going to abandon those goals just because the going has got tough. This is when we need to make sure we try even harder." So there was the promise – though with no word as to how it is to be done.

I will do such things – What they are yet I know not. . .

Shall we book in a pony for each of us as well then?

So how can Labour now reach the halfway goal by 2010? It will cost £4.5bn, to be found in the 2008 and 2009 budgets: Ed Balls declared that the chancellor had signed up to it. Where will it come from? The government could raise that sum from taxing the richest 1.5% of taxpayers on earnings over £100,000 by another 10%.

Err, Polly, you seem not to have grasped the point about marginal tax rates. They do in fact change behaviour. No, I\’m not going to insist that a rise to a 50% marginal rate will lead to a reduction in revenues in the short term, just that there isn\’t a straight line relationship between raising rates and raising revenues. You need dynamic analysis of such changes, not static. And you also need to make sure that the revenues will last into the long term…..because people\’s behaviour does change over time more than it does immediately.

Depressing research from the Department for Work and Pensions finds public sympathy for the poor has regressed in the last decade. Voters are less likely to believe anyone is poor, and more likely to blame the poor themselves. Opinion polls and Rowntree Foundation research tell the same story, as do the hostile bloggers invading the Guardian\’s website after articles such as this. Labour\’s decade of soaring affluence for the 70% property owners has bred a newly virulent despising of the families where 30% of children live below the poverty line.

That\’s because people are beginning to work out that the poverty you\’re talking about is relative poverty, not absolute. Yes, I know that in correctly thinking circles it is relative poverty that is decried (and I\’m even willing to agree that it\’s an interesting concept) but it doesn\’t in fact strike the Great Unwashed in quite the same way. Asking the average bloke on the Barnes Bendy Bus whether children should live in deprivation and the answer is no. Ask whether it\’s similarly appalling that some children have less than others and the answer is again no. The Demos simply isn\’t as worried about relative poverty as you are.

Yet Labour\’s great failing has been in never persuading the well-off that those left behind have any claim on their sympathy or concern.

Quite. As I say, the people don\’t actually give a damn. So why should their money be spent the way you want, rather than the way they want?

I Bet You Are Jeremy

This isn\’t a surprise:

The latest pull-out has annoyed rival business leaders at London-based Solar Century and local Indian operation, Orb Energy, who fear the impact of a high-profile company selling off solar business. Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Solarcentury and a leading voice in renewable energy circles, said Shell was undermining the credibility of the business world in its fight against global warming.

If a well known and canny company gets out of a business: well, it devalues the reputations of those still in it, doesn\’t it?

You\’d think that Leggett would welcome the opportunity for his own business to step into the gap in the marketlace really, but he seems to be more worried about the wider message than that.

Wonder how Solar Century is doing?

On Target


The cost of policing and security for the London 2012 Olympics has risen to £1.2 billion, it has emerged, as the Government admitted it could not guarantee that the overall bill will not exceed the £9.3 billion announced earlier this year.

I think we\’re still on target to get to Tyler\’s budget of £20 billion all in.

Conrad Black Sentence

Not given up yet, has he?

Shortly before he was sentenced, Black read a short statement to the court.

It said: "I do wish to express very profound regret and sadness at the severe hardship suffered by all the shareholders, including employees, by the evaporation of $1.85 billion (£90.3 million) in shareholder value under my successors [at Hollinger.]"

His successors in the UK seem to have pared the subs budget just a little too much as well.

The Horrors of Portugal

I pottered out tonight….the wifie is away doing that pre-Christmas grandmother thing in England.

Had dinner in the cafe at the end of the road. Got to order it, the day before, so they can get the stock in sort of thing.

I ended up with a bottle of not very good red wine. About a lb or so of not all that good beef, slowly cooked with garlic and onions. Boiled potatoes, a tomato and onion salad (they\’d peeled the tomatoes, I should add), bread, dessert of a couple of fresh pears (I was greedy and asked for a third) and a cafezino (for the uninitiated, an espresso and a local brandy).

No, there\’s better food out there in this world. There\’s even better food than this in England.

I got charged €10 for the lot.

The horrors of Portugal, let me tell you.


It\’s The Way He Tells \’em

Murphy again:

It’s simply the amount that it is claimed non-doms spend in the UK, which is not the same thing. In fact, it’s far from it. By this definition all people the world over who buy our exports ‘contribute’ to the British economy. It does not justify their having preferential tax treatment.

People who buy our exports do indeed get preferential tax treatment. They don\’t pay VAT (nor, of course, income tax, national insurance, fuel duty, etc, etc etc.) So if Murphy is correct in that these are the same things, then non-doms shouldn\’t be paying VAT, income tax, national insurance…..

Getting Greg Clark Wrong.

Via both Sullivan and Lost Legacy, this review in the NY Times of Greg Clark\’s " A Farewell to Alms".

Second, Darwinian evolution is usually seen as a process that works over very long periods of time, with consequences for humans that we can observe only by looking far into the past.

Well, yes, but Clark is careful not to insist that it is Darwinian evolution which is the mechanism by which the change came about.

One frustrating aspect of Clark’s argument is that while he insists on the “biological basis” of the mechanism by which the survival of the richest fostered new human attributes and insists on the Darwinian nature of this process, he repeatedly shies away from saying whether the changes he has in mind are actually genetic. “Just as people were shaping economies,” he writes in a typical formulation, “the economy of the preindustrial era was shaping people, at least culturally and perhaps also genetically” (emphasis added). Nor does he introduce any evidence, of the kind that normally lies at the core of such debates, that traits like the capacity for hard work are heritable in the sense in which biologists use the term.

Quite, so he\’s not in fact talking about Darwinian evolution then, so why blame him for not proving that it was caused by Darwinian evolution?

The issue here is not merely a matter of too often writing “perhaps” or “maybe.” If the traits to which Clark assigns primary importance in bringing about the Industrial Revolution are acquired traits, rather than inherited ones, there are many non-Darwinian mechanisms by which a society can impart them, ranging from schools and churches to legal institutions and informal social practices.

Indeed, and we\’ll come to that.

But if the traits on which his story hinges are genetic, his account of differential childbearing and survival is necessarily central.

Ah, and there is the central error in Friedman\’s argument. For Darwinian evolution is not in fact the only sort of evolution that has been posited, nor is it the only form of evolution which we can argue actually works.

Now, let me back up slightly here. I\’m not about to get all kooky on you and insist that because your father learnt to play the guitar then so can you already play the guitar via your genes. But there has been another form of evolution posited, Lamarckian. As it turns out, with the genetic attributes of humans and other animals it turns out to be wrong. But in Deirdrie McCloskey\’s review of the same book, the issue is indeed nailed as being entirely central to the thesis (and no, she doesn\’t agree with it):

…unless they fit his notion of the material if social inheritance of acquired characteristics (“and perhaps even the genes,” says he).

The inheritance of acquired characteristics is, in evolutionary terms, referred to as Lamarckian: and as above, with reference to genes, it\’s wrong. However, with reference to culture it most certainly is not wrong.

No, I\’m not going to try and prove that culture is transmitted in a Lamarckian manner. Rather, I\’m going to prove that you and everyone else already believe it is.

For I think we all agree that the children of teenage mothers are more likely to themselves become teenage parents? That is the inheritance of an acquired characteristic. We note that children who grow up in a home without books do badly at school: and then go on to note that those who do badly at school tend to have few books at home to instruct their own children. We note that the middle classes tend to transmit their social success across the generations: it\’s most unfashionable these days to attribute that to genes, rather, to social networks, to the privilege that a secure upbringing and a decent education provide. We note that children whose parents have a university education are more likely to get a university education themselves. Anyone pondering the family networks that infest UK journalism, or the Law, will be observing exactly the same thing. No, we don\’t believe that the ability to write leader columns has been genetically transmitted from Lord Rees Mogg to Annunziata Rees Mogg (he at The Times, she at The Telegraph: and having once read one of hers where she refers to "sclerosis of the liver", if we did I\’d be expecting someone to be having a very serious and intimate chat with Lady Rees Mogg sometime soon) but we do indeed believe that a combination of education and the extended network of the family have contributed to the daughter following in the old man\’s footsteps.

Indeed, this is one of the arguments forcefully put forward againt the existence of private schools in the UK: that they permit the transmission of exactly this form of cultural inheritance and thus privileged positions.

So we believe this about our society now: that attitudes, mindsets, extended networks, are indeed transmitted across the generations, not via Darwinian evolution, but in a way that can best be described as Lamarckian. The inheritance by the next generation of characteristics acquired by the previous one.

So we all already actually agree that Clark\’s mechanism is indeed a possible one (I personally regard it, now that\’s he\’s written the book to explain it, as obvious, but as I didn\’t see it before I read the book perhaps not that obvious.): all he needs to really prove is that the people who were transmitting the petit- and not so petit- bourgeois cultural values were indeed outbreeding those who didn\’t and the basic argument seems secure. Those bourgeois cultural values were indeed spreading through society via an evolutionary mechanism, just that of Lamarck, not Darwin.

Now, whether that actually caused the Industrial Revolution is another matter, but the transmission mechanism is one that, as above, we all already think is true.

Update. One further thought. I\’m really not sure where that idea that Darwinian evolution is only evident in humans over very long periods of time comes from. We need to divide evolution into two different things. The first is the accumulation of random mutations which lead to diversity in the population (which in itself can be divided into two. Those that kill the fetus or child, which are most of them, and those that don\’t). This does indeed take a long time and it happens at a reasonably well known rate. So much so that we actually use the existence of such diversity to count backwards and tell us when populations split in the past. Now most such mutations (those that don\’t kill) make very little or no difference at all to reproductive success. Others do make a difference. But there\’s a third set and those are those that make no difference now, but might at some point in the future. Yes, the accumulation of these mutations does indeed take a long time.

Well, you might ask, how can something not make a difference to reproductive success now but do so in the future? This brings us to our second "thing" about evolution. It\’s the changing environment which determines which traits lead to that increased reproductive success. Sure, things like melanin enhancement in skin to deal with sunnier climes take a long time to become evident. But environments can change rather rapidly.

For example, what if there were some random mutation that conferred immunity (or an increased chance of survival) to smallpox? Or bubonic plague? I\’ve no idea whether there is or has been (that there are such mutations for better immune systems is obvious, but they proffer immediate increased success, except where they don\’t) but I wouldn\’t be at all surprised if there had been. And then in Justinian\’s time (around 500 AD, for smallpox) or the 1350s, for bubonic plague, possession or not of those genes becomes very evident in a very short period of time. Those with them are still alive, those without are not.

Yes, OK, it\’s a quibble, but it\’s a boring Monday afternoon here.