Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Uh-oh. I've just noticed that I've posted about the same Telegraph blogger in all of my last three posts. This madness must now cease.

The Two Cultures

I have to admit to not knowing an awful lot about Marco Rubio. Florida Senator? Hispanic Republican? That's about it. But I can't quite share in the gleeful gotcha that GQ wrought when they asked him for the geological age of the earth.

Tom Chivers is particularly scathing of Rubio's failure to answer ("I'm not a scientist man").

"I'm not a scientist, man": well, I'm not a doctor, man, but I know where my femur is. This is, roughly speaking, a question of equivalent difficulty.

I'm not a scientist either, and my first thought was, really? I had literally no idea how old the earth was. I'm not exactly uneducated (what with the whole Oxford post-grad thing) but I wouldn't have got within a billion years of the right answer. (In my defence, I do know that 4004BC isn't the right answer).

I suspect this is yet another illustration of CP Snow's argument that the nation is rigidly divided between arts and science...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life

I have now worked out just why Tom Chivers is in such a bi-partisan, forgiving mood. He watched It's A Wonderful Life last night. Telegraph Towers must have been a warm, huggy sort of place this morning...

The limits of politics

Tom Chivers has a heartfelt, articulate and entirely hopeless blogpost up today, the basic message of which is that political opponents aren't usually bad people, they just disagree with you, and inferring bad faith or actual evil on their behalf is unhelpful, unpleasant and unproductive. So say all of us. It's a lost cause though, I think. Two stories I've seen in the last couple of days go to why that is. Given that 'tis the season and all that, both stories are from the US.

The first is that, in on-line dating, political affiliation is about the biggest factor in datability.

Being a member of the opposite party often beats religious difference, unattractiveness, and low educational and professional attainment on Ms. Adler's clients' list of turnoffs.

I've dated across party lines in the past (hell, it's all in the past, I've been with my wife since 2001), and a bit of disagreement adds spice to things - spending your life surrounded by people who agree with you gets a bit dull. I certainly can't imagine anything so depressing as considering political disagreement to be a deal-breaker.

Well, maybe there's one thing that's more depressing.

Last week's viral video of poor little Abigael crying about the election caused me to reflect on what good parents my husband and I are. This model parenting all started about six months ago, when our then 3-year-old saw us watching Mitt Romney on "grown-up TV" (the news) and asked: Who is that? Without even consulting a single parenting book, my husband confidently answered: "Mitt Romney. He's a bad man.”

The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. Sigh.

Three high-minded reasons I want Romney to win

It's been hard to get too excited by elections over the pond this time round. Obama really did turn out to be just another politician with a nice line in speeches, Mitt Romney is still just a younger Bob Dole with two arms. It's a miracle to me how anyone over in the UK can give a tuppeny damn about the outcome of this. And yet they do, Lord how they do. So I agree with Harry Cole in that the best reason to want a Romney win is to luxuriate in the lamentations from the losing left. Schadenfreude that would be all the sweeter for being safer - I don't care enough to be hurt by an Obama victory.

In any event, as Iain Martin says, it really has been a dispiriting election. Deprived of the chance of running on his record, thanks to how dismal that record is, Obama has been running since Spring on the basis that Mitt Romney is a hard-right monster with the blood of a thousand unemployed workers on his hands. A bullshitter who wants to undo civil rights legislation. It's a testament both to the strengths and limitations of negative advertising that the first debate (where Romney showed up and wasn't transparently stupid and/or evil) should have had such a powerful effect on the race - the public had largely bought Obama's negative pitch, until they actually saw Romney in person.

Romney's not been much better - his ads are misleading, his tax plans half-baked, his rhetoric generally underwhelming. It's all just a bit...flat.

Into the gap (perhaps widening that gap) has stepped polling. I've never seen a race where the issues and personalities have been so completely outgunned by statistical modelling. It's as though all questions of who ought to win have been deemed old hat: the only thing that matters is who is currently ahead in whatever the latest poll is out of Bumfuck, Indiana. That's slightly depressing, and my second reason to want a Romney win is that it might dent the reputations of the pollsters and the modellers and make for a more interesting election next time round.

As for the UK politics angle - no-one likes Romney, the Republicans are weird, Obama is still cool, the Democrats advocate higher spending, and they're incumbents during a tough economic climate. Everyone here wants Obama to win. I guess that has to do as my third reason for wanting Romney to win. I have to admit that I don't expect him to though.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is just one of those things. We all know it's a bit rubbish, but we don't care, because it's 9pm on Sunday and the last thing we want is anything that threatens to make us think too hard about anything. It's broadly mindless and basically comforting.

Even the class dichotomy works out all right for us - in a programme ostensibly divided between upstairs and downstairs, the only really sympathetic characters (Matthew, Mrs Crawley, Dr whatsit etc) are comfortably middle-class, allowing us all to feel nicely superior to all the titled ninnies in the drawing room and the pushy menials in the kitchen.

So, no complaints from me - not even analysis, because the subject's not worth the work. What I will say though is that I wish they hadn't finished on a cricket match. It started well enough - because Dan Stevens can actually play cricket - but finished with that terrible, no-good, very bad drama cricket cliche of the big talker getting bowled first ball (and then, gah, the umpire raising his finger. Why? He's bowled! There's no appeal, there's no dispute, put your sodding finger down. Every time.) It's virtually frame for frame the same gag as an ancient ITV Jeeves and Wooster.

And then that utterly weedy one-handed catch by the chauffeur. Yassus. Just pelt the bloody thing at him, so the catch at least looks impressive.