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Readers may remember my previous rant on the subject of electronic voting, standards for which are being agreed by the Council of Europe as we speak. Some two months ago I wrote to John Prescott to remind him of the problems with electronic voting systems which do not include paper receipts, concluding,
Although electronic voting may be an effective way to increase turnout and make it cheaper to run elections, neither of these aims is as important as making sure that the electoral process properly expresses the will of the people. I urge you to ensure that ODPM does not lend its weight to any proposal for electronic voting which does not require paper receipts. Although the current Council of Europe Recommendation is only a draft, without prompt action the draft may become final, and the Council's proposal -- which in other respects is sensible -- may be adopted for real elections, leaving them open to undetectable fraud.
I hope that I can rely on you to ensure that any electronic voting systems which are adopted in this country always issue paper receipts, so that they can be trusted by voters to accurately record their intentions.
I have now received a response, not from Mr. Prescott, who is presumably too busy supporting the Scottish fishing industry to answer letters from humble Britons such as myself. Instead one Michael Leah from ODPM answered my letter, writing,
I note that you have concerns about the security of these [electronic voting] channels. Issues surrounding the security of e-voting form one of the areas that we are investigating through [pilot projects in remote and on-site electronic voting.]
Recall, from my previous piece, that remote voting cannot be made secure. So the fact that the government are already doing remote voting trials is really bad news.
Nevertheless, Leah assures me that,
At this stage in our programme of pilots, we have found no evidence that would lead us to concluide that electronic voting (whether remote or otherwise) cannot be used without undermining the integrity of the election. In addition, the Electoral Commission has not found any evidence that the pilots have led to an increase in the incidence of electoral offences or malpractice.
... at this time, we do not think that it is necessary to insist on the provision of voter-verified receipts to prove that direct recording e-voting kiosks are recording votes correctly. Nevertheless, we remain mindful of this issue and the wider issues surrounding vote verification.
But voter-verifiable receipts are the only way to prove that `direct-recording e-voting kiosks' are recording votes correctly. Leah's statement is equivalent to,
We do not think it important that direct recording e-voting kiosks record votes correctly, but we might change our minds later.
Leah concludes (emphasis mine),
We are not complacent on this matter and are well aware of the potential threats to the security of e-voting systems, which is why we are still proceeding carefully with our programme of carefully controlled pilots. We will not rush to implement to extend (sic.) innovations to our voting system without considering their implications in detail. However, if we are to put in place a modern electoral system relevant to all our citizens, then we have to explore and develop these new methods of voting.
(Here I attempt to segue inexpertly from one theme to another.)
We are frequently told that policy should be made on a cost-benefit basis: estimate the costs and the benefits of some course of action, and proceed with it if the ratio of benefits to costs exceeds some threshold -- perhaps 1, so that we follow any policies with a net benefit, or perhaps exceeding the ratio for alternative policies. I don't know whether the electronic voting enthusiasts in ODPM are determining policy on this basis, but let's suppose that they are.
Electronic elections are supposed to be cheaper to run than existing paper elections, and to increase turnout over its current low values. (Political commentators sometimes argue that low turnout is a result of dull politicians, uninspiring policies, and a general apathy to the concerns of our existing elected representatives; but perhaps in fact it is the result of an overcomplicated and inconvenient electoral system which requires electors to leave their sofas and travel sometimes as much as several miles from their homes in order to put a pencil mark on a piece of paper. Well, I'm sure we'll find out.)
These, then, are net benefits which are realised over the life of the system. The costs include the price of the hardware and software, and the expense of training electoral officials and so forth. No doubt (assuming that the electronic voting systems we wind up with work at all and are not humungous Capita-type cockups) interested parties will be able to show that the benefits, in the long run, exceed the costs of the system.
But what about the risk of fraud? It's pretty hard to fit this into the cost-benefit model, because electoral fraud is likely to be fairly rare. Costs and benefits are usually discussed in terms of their expected or mean values. While it's fairly reasonable -- if you think increasing turnout -- to put a value on increased electoral turnout (``We will fund advertising campaigns to reach voters if they will cost less than 1p per additional voter''), it's much harder to do this with the risk of rare electoral fraud. As a society we obviously put a fairly high value on the honesty of the electoral process (you can be gaoled for tampering with an election, and occasionally individual disputed elections are re-run, so clearly the `cost' of electoral fraud exceeds the cost of running an election) but it's pretty hard to price the damage done by an electoral system which left it impossible to determine whether fraud had taken place or not. (As an aside, the Electoral Commission has done some research on attitudes to electoral fraud which might be of interest to some readers.)
The same issue arises in discussion of `carbon taxes' designed to mitigate the effects of climate change. You quite often see the statement that a tax of (say) £20 per tonne of carbon burned should be levied in order (a) to repair damage done by more severe weather, rising sea levels, and whatnot; and (b) to encourage users of energy to be more parsimonious with fossil fuels. Looking at (a) in particular, the idea is to take models which predict the effects of climate change, use them to predict the amount of economic damage done for different amounts of global warming, then linearise them in order to estimate the damage done `by' each tonne of carbon and levy a tax of that amount. This is fine as far as it goes, but unfortunately it's not really a very good model of the effects of climate change.
It's expected that global warming will result in two broad types of damaging effect: gradual, incremental effects such as more frequent severe weather and more serious flooding as a result of slightly higher sea levels; and relatively unlikely but potentially very serious `discontinuity' events, such as having the West Antarctic Ice Shelf melt and sea levels rise by ten meters or more or the thermohaline circulation in the north Atlantic shut down, leaving Europe with the climate of Nova Scotia. The cost of the damage from such events could be very large indeed, but we don't know how likely they would be. To pick random figures out of the air, suppose the probability that global warming will trigger severe cooling in Europe is 1 in 1,000, and that the damage that will be done by this corresponds to £1,000 per tonne of carbon. (The precise figures don't matter: it's just that there is a small probability of a large loss.) That would change the proposed `carbon tax' by only £1, well within the range of estimates proposed; but very few people confronted with the two possibilities, `the weather becomes worse', and `the weather becomes worse plus there's a risk that western Europe might turn into a giant icebox' would regard them as almost equivalent, as the expected-damage model does.
Similarly, it's unlikely that `elections remain as costly as they are now, with low turnout', and `elections get cheaper and more people vote, but there's a risk that catastrophic and undetectable electoral fraud could take place' are alternatives comparable on strictly money terms.
Right, long time no update, so a couple of inconsequential things to forestall any complaints from my half-dozen readers. Firstly, following on from the launch of They Work For You, here's a silly web application that lets you graph how often certain words or phrases are used by our elected representatives.
It's not clear that this is at all useful but it offers some vaguely interesting insights. For instance, a search for `in the fullness of time' suggests that, per unit MP, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs are slightly more prone to cliché than are Labour MPs (this surprised me quite a lot, actually). Less surprisingly, it turns out that war (red) is more popular than peace (blue):
Similarly, MPs find guns (red) much more interesting than butter (blue):
despite ongoing controversy over the Common Agricultural Policy.
And, if you're in any doubt as to who the real villain is, this plot may answer the question:
And the second thing? Further adventures in the world of British Customer Service. I am trying to get a telephone line installed by BT. Naturally, in this wired internet age, this simple procedure is scheduled to take two weeks. The CIA World Factbook seems no longer to quote the average waiting time for getting a phone line set up in different countries, instead telling me useful factlets such as that Angola has a grand total of seven internet-connected computers, but in any case I'm sure waiting two weeks for a line to be installed puts Britain firmly in the ranks of the TPLACs. Anyway, while trying to get some sense out of BT, I discovered a useful (if trivial) trick, which I pass on for the benefit of anyone else in the unhappy position of trying to get a phone line from them.
I called their `customer service' line, and was asked by the answering machine to type in the telephone number about which I was calling. So I did that (they assign a phone number before the line is connected), and the soothing voice on the other end explained to me that no orders were scheduled for this account, and invited me to press `1' to report a fault. Presumably it meant a fault with the phone line, rather than with BT's ordering system, but in any case dialling `1' just got the response that their `customer service' office was closed. Going back through the procedure, I tried entering my `account number' instead of my phone number but this just caused the thing to tell me that I'd made a mistake. But typing in the phone number of the customer service line immediately got me the response,
Sorry, a technical problem has occurred and you need to speak to a customer advisor.
and put me through to a Real Human Being immediately.
Funny -- I thought I'd need to speak to a customer advisor even in the absence of a technical fault. Oh well....
Well, OK, not quite in full. But partly in full:
|Party||Share of vote predicted by party||Actual share of vote achieved|
|English Democrats||``Please, please be my [guest] in taking the michael if we don't poll between 6%-8% at the Euro Elections announced on 13 June 2004.''||0.8%|
So, that seems to be all of the good news from the European elections. As Anthony Wells points out, the results might even mean that the European Constitution isn't killed dead -- it will be pretty easy for the government to paint any `no' campaign as a bunch of loons and nutters if the UKIP are involved in it.
Elsewhere, Matthew Turner draws our attention to what he says were UKIP supporters reacting to a defeat while others celebrated their victory. Actually I think he's jumping the gun there; the 400 Croydon rioters could equally well have been supporters of the BNP or the National Front. Couldn't have been supporters of the English Democrats though -- there were too many of them....
In the comments to an earlier piece, Dave Weeden raises an important question:
Surely after all this correspondence with the English Democrats, it's now possible to draw a graph of some kind?
Some random, undirected thoughts:
A question I put at NotCon to Cory Doctorow, who believes the thesis that technologies have politics: in particular that inventions like the printing press and the internet are fundamentally technologies of the liberal enlightenment, and that technologies like `trusted computing' are fundamentally repressive. Anyway:
Technologies may or may not have inbuilt politics. The printing press can be used for printing books, or printing identity cards; `trusted computing' can be used to enforce digital rights management or to secure peer-to-peer networks. If these technologies do have political values, how can we tell ahead of time what they are?
I also spoke to a couple of people there who were working on (or enthusiasts for) heavily-encrypted, impossible-to-snoop peer-to-peer (`filesharing') applications. A well-known example is FreeNet; there are various others. FreeNet describes itself as,
free software which lets you publish and obtain information on the Internet without fear of censorship. To achieve this freedom, the network is entirely decentralized and publishers and consumers of information are anonymous. Without anonymity there can never be true freedom of speech, and without decentralization the network will be vulnerable to attack.
-- which is a point of view, I suppose. A lot of people who work on this sort of thing have the ambition of making it impossible for record companies to threaten them when they send copies of music to their friends; while, as ever, I must point out that copyright infringement is Bad and Wrong and nobody ought to do it, the idea of giving the RIAA a black eye over their (frankly brutish) tactics is a worthy one.
But I think these people are addressing the wrong problem. If you build a secure, anonymous peer-to-peer network that actually works and is convenient to use, the result will be quiet panic among the Powers That Be, swiftly followed by oppressive regulation. While the advocates of this kind of technology will talk about how useful they are for enabling political free speech, the content industries will claim that they enable piracy and the police will warn about their usefulness to criminals. Peer-to-peer advocates will not win this argument; they will face arguments not about Chinese dissidents speaking freely through the network, but about child pornographers and terrorists distributing photographs of children being raped and bomb-making instructions. Government will run, not walk, to implement yet another technically dumb but crowd-pleasing bit of legislation to allow them to shut the thing down or bug every computer connected to it; and every day they delay doing so, the tabloid newspapers will scream for their blood. And you know what? They might be right, at least in part.
People who want to really irk the record industries -- and I'll remind you that copying music in infringement of copyright is Bad and Wrong and you mustn't do it -- should work not on theoretically sound but politically dangerous systems, but on subverting protocols which are so useful that they won't be regulated away. For instance, in a record-industry fantasy world, laws could force ISPs to prevent their customers from running any servers at all (by dropping incoming packets with the SYN flag set, if you want to know), unless they were licensed by some body which ensured that they weren't doing anything wrong. (I don't think this is likely, even in the United States, but it is possible; if it did happen, it would be justified by the same arguments about enforcement of the criminal law that I describe above.) This would kill all the current peer-to-peer systems, but leave most of the Internet's `killer applications' workable (though much more expensive to run).
But imagine instead building such a network built on email. People expect to be able to email (for instance) large `Power Point' presentations to one another, and what's to say whether a sound embedded in such a file is an infringing copy of a song, or a legitimate sound-effect? While we shouldn't expect email to carry on working in exactly the same way as it has for the last thirty years (though the infrastructure has proved remarkably resilient) I think it's reasonable to expect that there will still be something like email, with more-or-less the same functionality and user interface, for at least that long. And people will rely on it (as they rely on email now) and be very intolerant of interference with it. I had more technical thoughts about this a while ago, which may be of interest to the technically-minded.
And now I've bored my half-dozen readers to tears with all that technical stuff (and, coincidentally, it was nice to meet some of you face-to-face on Sunday), a political thought. I've just received a piece of election literature from the BNP. On the back of this odious document is a profile of the Unterkartoffelfuhrer who's standing for election here, complete with a picture of his smiling family including two small children. One of the kids is quoted as saying,
My Dad isn't a racist!
Presumably the kid then continued,
He just doesn't like black people or foreigners.
but the BNP didn't see fit to quote this. So there we are: the BNP, a party so hopeless that their election literature is written by six-year-olds.
So, on Sunday I went to NotCon, which was a lot of fun. I'll leave it to others to write about the whole event in detail and just focus on one bit of it.
The most inspiring of the talks was from Brewster Kahle, the man behind archive.org; his talk was about the idea of putting all of human knowledge (or at least all the bits which are recorded in any fixed form) online for instant access by anyone, anywhere.
He asked the questions, `should we?', `can we?', `may we?' and `will we?', to which one might imagine the answers are, respectively, `hell yes', `hell yes', `who gives a fuck?' and `let's get on with it'. Sadly, `may we?' -- is it legal to do this? -- is the thorniest of those questions. Even though the vast majority of books which remain in copyright are not and never again will be in print, making money for their authors and publishers, it would be Bad and Wrong to let anybody who doesn't already own a copy read any of them. The answer to the question `who gives a fuck?' is that we all should: our civilisation would be much the poorer if we were to ignore the shining edifice of copyright law merely in order to preserve and disseminate knowledge.
Nevertheless I wish Brewster Kahle and Rick Prelinger luck in their court case intended to let them distribute those millions of out-of-print books. (As an aside, how much fun must it be to sue John Ashcroft?)
Kahle is also behind the Internet Bookmobile. This is one of the coolest things ever. It's a truck with a printer, a binder and a satellite connection to the internet in it; you park it somewhere, and print and bind books. This is apparently simple enough that a child can operate the machinery and each book costs about a dollar. There were some samples handed round at the talk, and they were pretty good -- no worse than the average modern paperback. The Bookmobile will print you any book that archive.org has archived -- so far, only those that are actually out of copyright. But that's still a lot of text.
There was another interesting detail in the talk: Kahle asked libraries whether they'd be interested in printing and giving away books using the same technology. He expected them to complain about the cost, but apparently it costs about $2 to lend a book out, so giving away $1 books looks like a pretty good proposition. As the Economist has pointed out, usage of public libraries is in decline partly because buying books has become much cheaper since libraries were established in the mid-19th century. Something which increases the range of books available at the library at the same time as making libraries cheaper to run would clearly be a Good Thing.
I have to say I found the estimate of $2 per book issued rather surprising. It's not at all clear what the direct costs to the library are for each book issued; some elements are obvious (for instance, replacement of books lost by readers and other costs relating to the stock presumably rise with borrowings), but others aren't. Salaries are paid however many books are borrowed, and similarly for the costs of maintaining buildings.
If you read (say) the `Best Value Performance Plan' (really a big table of statistics about public services) from Cambridgeshire County Council, you'll discover (indicator #115) that the `cost per visit' to public libraries is about £2.70, but I think that's just the total funding for libraries divided by the numbers of visits to them, so it doesn't actually tell us the marginal cost of getting a book out. (You'll also discover that Cambridgeshire's aims for the future include both to,
Increase the number of telephone/fax/electronic contacts with libraries to 122,000.
Maintain at 5.5 the number of visits per head of population to libraries.
-- see page 7 of their `Best Value' report. They've achieved the one, but not the other. I wonder why that could be?)
I also had a look at some data from the NSO's Regional Trends, which in recent years has included information on library resources and use, tabulating numbers of books, numbers of visits and issues and expenditure on libraries in various regions. Approaching this in a fairly naive way, you might conclude that each issue of a book costs about 70 pence: (this excludes data from London, which has much highers costs not covered by the model, and one apparently erroneous data point from eastern England)
70p isn't quite $2, but isn't a million miles off, either.
However, the above model doesn't actually tell us anything. The NSO give the numbers of visits, books, issues and libraries for each year in addition to expenditure; all of the variables are highly correlated:
(Obviously the numbers of books issued are closely related by the number of visits to libraries:
-- the average number of books taken out on a visit to a public library seems to be about 2.8.)
So actually what we've discovered is that regions of the country with more people in them have more libraries which get visited more, lend more books, and cost more. (None of this should surprise us, of course.) There's no real evidence in the above for the cost of lending an individual book.
Another way to look at the data is to look at the expenditure of individual regions from year to year. Unfortunately Regional Trends only seems to have covered this for three years, so it's hard to find anything definite; here's how the expenditure in the different regions (dropping a couple of outliers) changed from 2000 to 2001:
-- I don't think we can safely draw any conclusion from that.
I suspect that Kahle's figure of $2/issue is like Cambridgeshire's figure: providing a decent library service leads to people borrowing a certain number of books (determined by how much people read), and costs a certain amount (determined by how much it costs to buy books, employ staff, build libraries, ...) and one number turns out to be about $2 times the other. If libraries printed free books from the internet for their patrons, then this `cost per issue' might fall -- because people might use the libraries more, they might issue more books, but still cost about the same amount in total. But I don't believe that libraries encounter a direct cost of $2 (or even £2.70 or 70p) for every book they issue.
None of this, of course, affects how we should view Brewster Kahle's efforts. Giving away out-of-copyright (and, let's hope, out-of-print) books for free is a bloody good idea and again I wish him the greatest luck in doing so.
I was hoping to be able to stay off this subject, but earlier I received word from Matthew Sinclair that somebody has been impersonating me in the comments on his website. Since these comments were posted following up comments from somebody signing themselves `English Democrat', I think it's a fairly safe assumption that the pond life who make up that mob have been putting words into my mouth.
This is actually so pathetic that I am not even angry about it. (Well, a little bit.) Matthew has kindly edited the comments on his site to make clear that they are not mine. I note merely that, while a political party cannot sue me for defamation, the converse is not true. Certainly, it's likely that I have better things to do with my time than start a libel action against a pissant mob -- but don't rely on it.
For information, the comments are here and here. As usual, the English Democrats show themselves to be barely literate; this time round they were a little more sparing with the Capital Letters, though they were a bit more enthusiastic with line breaks:
I have checked them out - I'll be voting for the English Democrats
even if it is just to make St George's Day a Public Holiday
and of course to prevent Labour splitting up England into 9 Regions.
As it happens, I agree entirely that St. George's Day should be a public holiday. In Turkey. Where he was from. If we're going to have a new public holiday here, I think we should have one which celebrates Britain's great contributions to the peace, prosperity and freedom of Europe. I recommend Trafalgar Day (21st October) or D-Day (6th June, as anybody who has seen the news in the past month or so will remember).
In the other comment, `I' wondered whether,
the English Democrats will also get some `fall-out' from all this UKIP interest.
Sadly I think it's unlikely that they'll be subject to fall-out or any of the other effects of nuclear weapons. Well, we can hope, I suppose.
(Update: Pete wrote to the English Democrats to ask where they stood on free speech. Their response was not very convincing.)
So I am having an exciting week. Today's bit of wannabe-barratry comes from one C. Constable, presumably Christine Constable, one of the English Democrats' candidates in the North-West England region, and reads as follows: (typos as in original)
Subject: English Democrats Party - comments which are offensive
We advise you to remove offensive statements relating to the English Democrats Party. We have downloaded the offensive copy from your web-site and intend to prosecute you directly and your ISP if you do not remove the slanderous comments that you have published on your site.
We give notice that should the offensive material not be deleted from your site by 10.00am 4th June, we will instigate proceedings. against you.
It's sad that in a party as small as the English Democrats, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing:
I think that your latest Posting gives a far more `Balanced' view of the situation, and we will not now be taking any sort of action against you.
-- Steven Uncles (from the English Democrats)
Oh well. As Anthony has pointed out, political parties can't sue for defamation anyway; in any case my statements are certainly fair comment. So I shall take up the second part of Anthony's advice: while it would certainly be unladylike for Ms. Constable to fuck herself and the horse she rode in on, I take no hesitation in suggesting that she do so.
(Oh, and I should add that I am now very bored of the English Democrats. Giving them publicity of any sort -- even bad -- makes me slightly queasy. But there we go.)
(And before I pop out to the pub, I'll add a statistic, since my readers probably expect that. I've just counted the number of words on my web site; there are somewhere in excess of 120,000 in this web log alone. The English Democrats, by objecting to one of them -- `quasi-fascist' -- have made themselves and their behaviour a prominent -- and altogether negative -- topic of discussion around these parts. Not to claim that the readers of British political web logs form a substantial constituency -- but then, neither do supporters of the English Democrats.)
I'm just going to draw people's attention to Peter's commentary on yet another piece of idiocy by Steven Landsburg which purports to advocate executing `computer hackers' (by which he means, somewhat improbably, those who write viruses and worms) on economic grounds. (Peter, like I, found this from Marginal Revolution, which occasionally passes on good links, but more frequently turns up Landsburgesque nonsense, which is sad.)
There are several points here. Pete points out that Landsburg's economics is crap; another, which is often forgotten, which is that writing computer code like a virus or worm is speech, and speech is free. (Releasing a virus or worm is an offence, of course, but that's a distinct act.)
A third is that Landsburg is an idiot. I tried to read his book, The Armchair Economist, but it was unbearably dreadful and I was unable to make it to the end. You can get a good feel for what his book is like (please for god's sake don't buy it) by imagining the following paragraph, with slight variations, repeated for hundreds of pages:
Many people think [something which might or might not be true, but which Landsburg doesn't believe] but economists know that it is false. According to [some data Landsburg quotes selectively from somewhere] it is obvious that [some conclusion which he doesn't justify, whether obvious or not] and therefore [some outrageous policy prescription, like executing computer hackers or banning car seatbelts.]
For Landsburg, `economists know that...' is sufficient to dispose of any argument. This is more feeble than the usual type of argument-from-authority (``well-known commentator X argues that...''), since in many of the cases he cites, economists (let alone actual specialists in the field) don't agree on the issue in question. (His discussion of risk homeostasis is particularly hilarious from this point of view.)
I lent the book to a friend of mine on holiday a little while ago (I did warn him...), and he, unlike me, was able to make it through to the end; his response?
I can't tell you where he gets wrong on every page of this book, but the man is definitely a cunt.
Since I haven't the energy to review the book in toto I'll have to let that stand.
Anyway, since Peter doesn't have comments on his web log, I'll pose the following here:
``Libertarianism is just trolling applied to real life.'' Discuss.
Polly Toynbee recently wrote on the relationship between income inequality and the prevalence of obesity (more inequality leads to more obesity, she claims). Naturally this has provoked the usual ignorant rebuttals from various corners of the web. Matthew Turner lists a few of these and points out that, whatever the merits or otherwise of Toynbee's piece -- frankly I have better things to do than read it, or the rebuttals, in any detail -- if you plot the prevalence of obesity against the Gini coefficient of income inequality for a bunch of OECD countries, you do indeed get a (weak) positive correlation.
Now, there are two important things to say about this. One is that the various countries of the OECD have substantially different cultures, and this is the sort of thing which is likely to influence the prevalence of obesity. Another is that different countries have widely differing populations, wheras the only sensible causal argument that could be made here is that people who live in unequal societies are (for some reason) more likely to be obese than those who live in more equal ones. On that basis, we should be looking at the data weighted by the populations of the various countries; but if you do this the results are dominated by the appearance of the US (very unequal, very obese, and very populous) and Japan (not very unequal, not very obese, quite populous).
One way around this is to look at obesity within the United States instead. It's true that there is cultural variation within the United States, but presumably it's less important than among the OECD countries; and a wide distribution of populations between the different states (which are the unit over which population, obesity and income data are most conveniently available), but it's not so skewed as the distribution of population in the OECD. Anyway, we can get somewhere with this:
The best-fit line has a slope of 11.45±11.33 (that's a standard error, not a confidence interval). So this provides very weak evidence for positive correlation (that is, the result is compatible with the two variables being uncorrelated and their being weakly correlated, but not with their being negatively correlated or strongly positively correlated). Any relationship in these data is far-from-striking.
Can we conclude anything useful from this? Not a lot, frankly, beyond that you shouldn't assume that somebody else's statistics are right just because they disagree with Polly Toynbee. I'm suspicious of this sort of thing anyway, because there's no explanation of how income inequality is supposed to make people obese. Toynbee seems to think it's (roughly) something to do with self-esteem, but doesn't really offer any evidence for this. I doubt that anyone's likely to get to the bottom of this one just using summary statistics.
(As an aside, you might be wondering what the Gini coefficient is or why it's a useful measure of income inequality. Wikipedia will tell you that it's defined as the area between the Lorenz curve of a distribution and the Lorenz curve of a uniform distribution, which sounds easy to calculate but not obviously meaningful; and MathWorld will tell you that it's the normalised mean of the absolute difference between each pair of incomes in the distribution, which sounds much more sensible but a pain to compute. These two definitions appear to be completely different, but surprisingly enough they turn out to be the same. Isn't that nice?)
More feedback on my piece on European election candidates, this time on behalf of Jim Naisbitt, about whom I was able to find out no information. Mr. Naisbitt now has a web site setting out his policies; thanks to Linda Holder (who I'm guessing designed the site?) for drawing it to my attention.
Mr. Naisbitt is a 65-year-old civil engineer originally from Gateshead. (Among other things it appears that he spent part of the early '70s designing bits of Iraq's water supply system; probably the Americans have since bombed them, which is sad.) He, like me, appears to be fairly disillusioned with the governance of the European Union, and he's also noticed that the electoral system itself is bloody stupid:
Furthermore, I have put up a Deposit of £5,000 [to stand in the election] and, to save this, I must win 2.5% of the vote. A Party List of SEVEN Candidates needs also to win only 2.5% (not 17.5%) and also puts up a total of only £5,000 (NOT £35,000 as one might expect!). The tradition of the Individual in British Society is being trampled by the Herd.
As for policies, well, he has a bulletin which isn't very specific, but mentions that he is in agreement with the Westminster Declaration of the Movement for Christian Democracy. That site seems to be down right now, but you can read the text of the Declaration at web.archive.org. It seems -- as I had suspected -- that Jim's statment that, ``The Declaration is concerned with the Sanctity of Life'' is code for ``I oppose abortion''.
So on this basis I'm afraid that I can't vote for him (although in every other respect he seems a decent bloke and I wish him well). Please do go and look at his website and decide for yourself.
However -- and here I again return to the very edge of eye-popping rage -- imagine that I felt that Mr. Naisbitt, like Martin Bell, were worthy of my vote. Because of the fucking idiotic electoral system, I would have to choose only one of them -- whereas were they part of a party, even one they'd made up for the purpose, for instance the `This Electoral System Is Bloody Stupid Party', I could vote for both. In any case I've been disenfranchised. The only reasons that this hasn't provoked full-blown eye-popping rage are that (a) this election doesn't really matter anyway; and (b) I've had my morning coffee and am therefore feeling less cranky than I otherwise might.
(I will also point out that the behaviour of Ms. Holder, who sent me a polite and informative email entirely bereft of threats of litigation, should serve as a lesson to Steven Uncles of the English Democrats in how civilised people hold discourse on the web. Not that that'd be of interest to him, I suppose. In the unlikely event that anyone is planning to vote for the English Democrats, I'd strongly advise them to vote for Mr. Naisbitt -- or anyone else, apart from the BNP, Respect Coalition or UKIP -- instead.)
This is all done with wwwitter.
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