Dirty deeds done badly

It’s election season again, which means yet another example of bad mathematics and dishonest representation through the door from the Conservative party. The Tories use charts in an attempt to represent how they are the only party to stand a chance of beating the SNP in whatever contest they are engaged in. I say the SNP because they are the party which holds the Westminster seat at the moment and are the party to be toppled if someone else is to represent the constituency. Prior to the 2015 election, the seat was held by the Liberal Democrats.

This post isn’t about the political merits or otherwise of the various parties, but the perpetual habit of the Tories in mis-using and abusing statistics in seeking to gain the allegiance of the voters in the ballot box or postal vote as the case may be.

Let’s start with the statistics the Tories seek to abuse. These are the actual results of the elections for Argyll and Bute Council earlier this month. Because Scottish local authorities are elected from multi-member wards using a single transferable vote (STV) system, the only data that we have to work with are the first preference votes, which are published by the Electoral Management Board here for you to look at yourself. I’ll summarise the data:

The number of eligible voters was 68,808 and 33,670 people cast a vote, a turnout of 48.9%. That means, even if the turnout at a general election is 60%, there are another 7,614 votes in play. Remember that.

The first preference votes were as follows:

Independents 10079 30.4%
SNP 9174 27.7%
Conservative 8315 25.1%
Liberal Democrats 3571 10.8%
Labour 1362 4.1%
Green 609 1.8%
Other 32 0.1%

The distribution of first preference votes represented in a chart are as follows:

This is how the Conservative leaflet that came through my door today represented the Council elections for Argyll and Bute:

There’s a wee difference. If you took the numbers and charted the data properly, it would look like this:

The Tories have done what you’d expect; scale down the heights of the columns for the LibDems and Labour. Hilariously enough, they’ve also scaled down their own column and shown the gap as visually greater than it would be if the figures they were using were honest. Remember, they’re not.

So, taking the Council election first preference data, and excluding the 35,138 people who didn’t bother vote, and all of those who voted for independents, Greens and Kippers, the data would look like this:

The Tories have actually under-represented their own share. And these are the people who claim to be good with finances.

So, what about their claim that they’re the only party to unseat the SNP? Here’s the result of the 2015 parliamentary election as shown on the UK Polling Report website:

It would still appear that it’s an SNP/LibDem contest. Bear in mind that 32% of the people who voted in the Council election voted for independents, Greens or Kippers and there were 35,000+ people who didn’t vote at all. It may well be that the Conservatives are the party who can unseat the SNP, but the data they use is dishonest and shouldn’t be used to persuade people.

I should state here that I am not expressing a preference for any party here, with the exception of abhoring Kippers and Tories. I should also state that I’m not a psephologist.


Votive models at Notre Dame de la Garde


There is a long tradition of people surviving peril on the sea giving thanks to the not-goddess Mary in the cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille. The largest number of physical memorials are plaques, as seen on the wall behind, but there are also many models of boats and ships suspended in the space within the cathedral, which emphasises the place of the sea in the history and life of Marseille and the danger which is always attendant upon setting out upon it. The tradition naturally transferred to air travel in the last century, as models of aircraft are also found.

Not that people are superstitious or making offerings in some sort of pagan way, you understand, it’s just that you wouldn’t want not to, would you? Gods and goddesses can be remarkably fickle and might just forget to be looking your way when next you need them.

More people getting suckered by neo-Nazis on Facebook

I’ve previously commented on the trend for fascist groups to exploit people’s genuine patriotism by getting likes for Facebook posts. Today I came across another example:

Lancaster flypast over poppies

Taken from Facebook group “I Am Proud To Wear My Poppy”

Perhaps I’m just a little bit too skeptical when I see pages and groups like this and can’t resist the urge to look under the bonnet and see what’s driving them. This one’s not difficult, nearly everything on their page is a repost from another Facebook group called “Knights Templar International”. And what do they like on Facebook?

What sort of groups does "Knights Templar International" like?

What sort of groups does “Knights Templar International” like?

Okay, after I stopped laughing I checked out some more of their likes:

More lovely people liked by those cuddly Knights Templar International

More lovely people liked by those cuddly Knights Templar International

I think you get the picture. But I was still curious: surely a group with the name Knights Templar International would be a fine, upstanding group of lads and lassies and no doubt their website was a little more measured and temperate in tone? Er, no. This splash screen is the first thing you see when you go there, buckle up:

Now there's a lovely inclusive welcome.

Now there’s a lovely inclusive welcome.

The opt-out-of-the-poll option is charmingly, “I wish to remain silent”. A short read will tell you that this is a patriarchal, right-wing xtian fundamentalist group with links to the Russian right wing. Women are welcome to join, but essentially only as camp followers. The group’s officers have wonderfully wizardly titles such as The Grand Master, The Grand Seneshal and The Grand Scrivener. In case you’re wondering, the last is the title given to the webmaster. You can join as an Associate and after as little as six months without having blotted your copybook you can apply to become a genuine Knight Templar, getting your cape, sword, gloves, Templar jewel, etc. for the price of your application fee. These people are more than just a little up themselves, but no less dangerous for all that.

So the moral of the tale remains the same: be careful what you like and promote on Facebook unless you really want to be counted amongst their kind.

Sitting down with Tories – a reflection on privilege

Recently I had the occasion to be at a large family gathering in the pleasant and leafy hinterlands west of London.

What characterised everyone was that they were all nice, decent people who were interesting to talk to and interested to meet this strange creature from Scotland where, don’t-you-know, people seem to be unaccountably restless under the British Crown. And this led to talk of why people could possibly contemplate independence and then, inevitably, to other political questions. And it turns out that many of these lovely people are Tories.

It was a conversation with – let’s call him Geoffrey – that set me thinking a bit about how we all look at the world. Geoffrey had spent his adult life in the army and was now long retired. One thing he said struck me, “I’d always vote for a party that supported the armed forces”. And this from a man over whose entire service career the armed forces have been in a continuous state of contraction and reconfiguration. And spoken only five years since a Tory government scrapped Nimrod, the Harrier fighter and the seaborne air defence capability of the UK. And that’s not to mention compulsory redundancies in the services and closing all but one RAF base in Scotland.

Nimrods being scrapped - BBC

Nimrods being scrapped – BBC

So, is that what “supporting the armed services” means? I begin to think it’s not, because it patently can’t be. We have the smallest military, albeit with things that make more powerful bangs, than at any time in our modern history. We have less capacity to project and sustain power across the globe than ever before and we cannot support our forces in more than one theatre at once. Rather, I think that supporting the armed services in this sense means the will to use them aggressively, because there’s very little else left it can mean.

And I think this gets closer to the point and closer to the thinking that binds together the conservatism that being a Tory means and the incredulity that there are people in Scotland who are so pissed off with Westminster austerity that they’d much rather be poor under an independent but accessible Scottish government than a remote and – to them foreign – Westminster government which seemed not to give a shit about the condition of ordinary folk. For many people in England, these are unthinkable thoughts, as is the idea that the Tories have not been supporters of the armed services since they won the 2010 general election. It’s the inability to get into other people’s heads and consider that there are many ways of looking at the world – or even reality – and, necessarily, having diverse and opposing conclusions about it.

Over the last few years, as my journey into humanism begins, I’ve learned a lot about the difference between having privilege and not having it. And I’ll be clear: I’m a white, middle-aged, cis-het male and with a public school education. That puts me clearly into the privileged bracket. It’s very easy for me to walk into a room and rely upon my phenotype, apparent gender and accent to get me through social encounters and to blend in with other, apparently privileged, people, but I know that for the vast majority of even my country-folk, this isn’t the case.

I can’t, and don’t presume to, speak for people without privilege. They have their own spokespeople and dynamic and capable campaigners. But I can try to be an ally and can challenge my own privilege and thinking and reflect upon other peoples’. Perhaps next time I’ll be bold enough to break the social conventions of the company of Tories and challenge the Geoffreys outright.

The cyclist in the fog – a metaphor for victim-blaming

Biking in the fog – Alex Abboud Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexabboud/4179645290


When I was in Ireland recently, I heard about a cyclist who had been killed the day before when struck by a vehicle. The person who told me the story went on to tell me that: they shouldn’t have been cycling in the fog; they probably didn’t have lights and they almost certainly had earphones in so they couldn’t have heard the oncoming vehicle. The same person went on to tell me about the time he’d nearly struck a 14-year-old schoolgirl who’d got off the bus and walked out in front of him; the schoolgirl was looking at her phone so obviously wasn’t paying sufficient attention to the traffic.

It struck me that the only facts the narrator knew about the dead cyclist were that (a) it was a foggy day and (b) the cyclist had been struck by a vehicle. Everything else was speculation and the construction of some sort of narrative. What sort of narrative was being constructed and why was one necessary beyond the bare facts? Partly because we tell stories to each other and passing on bare information without adding a personal perspective seems inadequate in our social discourse. And partly because, in telling a story like this, we are inviting the other person to enter into the narrator’s construction of the story and support their interpretations of the events as described.

It seems to me that there were a number of interesting elements added to this story. Firstly, the cyclist shouldn’t have been out in the fog, but people need to travel for their own purposes and can choose the mode of transport they wish. Secondly, assuming that the cyclist wasn’t well lit and therefore the driver might not have been able to see him in time. Thirdly, and for me most tellingly, that the cyclist probably had earphones in and was unable to take avoiding action. All of these added elements are essentially laying blame on the victim and seeking to excuse the fault of the driver. This version of the story discounts the cyclist’s right to share the road and for other road-users to look out for them. This also acts to justify the narrator’s own position in case he is ever in a similar situation.

I agree that there are a whole load of other factors about which we know nothing. Was the driver speeding? Did the cyclist join the road without making proper observations? Was either party intoxicated? But these are testable objective facts, not speculations added to sparse information.

Both these stories are about victim-blaming. It’s not the driver’s fault because, because …. Yet any driver in is charge of a couple of tonnes of metal travelling at speed. The driver is the person who’ll walk away from either collision with zero harm because of crumple zones, seat belts and air bags; the cyclist or pedestrian has no such protection and will be lucky to survive without life-long injuries. These are not symmetrical outcomes.

Victim-blaming happens all the time and will keep on happening until society really gets its head around what equality means. Equal access to the roads means that cyclists have the same rights to careful regard as any other road user. Children are going to be careless and drivers must expect them to walk out from behind buses and slow down or stop accordingly – indeed, in some countries, but regrettably not Ireland nor the UK, it is an offence to pass a stopped school bus for this very reason.

Victim-blaming is also about othering; putting the victim into an out-group who should not be afforded the same rights, privileges and protections as “people like us”. This helps to develop a meta-narrative that actually justifies victimhood and excuses personal or societal culpability for the protection and dignity of all people. Essentially, by blaming the people we run over in our entitlement, we preserve power and privilege and obstruct the building of a better society.

There are many cyclists in our own thinking and world-view. Refugees, the victims of rapists, LGBTQ+ people and those in receipt of welfare benefits to name but a few. In fact, it’s always the powerless who we put up on two wheels in the fog and then casually drive over, making excuses for their invisibility.

Facebook Patriotism: Faked for Likes

The things that pop up in your newsfeed, eh? You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it for yourself. This photo is the latest to appear, and spoiler alert, it’s a fake.


You just can’t beat mindless patriotism in any country for attracting clicks, likes and similar traffic. So, when this appeared, I read the caption and applied the basic rule of skepticism: is it really likely that a claim this extraordinary is true? It took about three minutes to (a) disprove it and (b) source the original photos from which the montage was created.

This is the original of the right-hand side of the faked image. It’s from the Imperial War Museum’s collection.

 British paratroops inside a Dakota transport aircraft on their way to Holland during 1st Airborne Division's operation to Arnhem, 17 September 1944. © IWM (K 7570) Date: Second World War Cat Number: K 7570

British paratroops inside a Dakota transport aircraft on their way to Holland during 1st Airborne Division’s operation to Arnhem, 17 September 1944.
© IWM (K 7570)
Second World War
Cat Number:
K 7570

So, first falsehood, it’s of a flight into Arnheim three months after D-Day.

The left-hand side of the image comes from a newspaper report of 25 veterans from the East Anglia branch of the Parachute Regimental Association who visited Colchester’s Merville Barracks to look around a restored Dakota, which is the type most paratroopers jumped from during the D-Day and Arnhem operations in the Second World War. Here’s the photo:

Former paratroopers board the Dakota on the Colchester Garrison.

Former paratroopers board the Dakota on the Colchester Garrison.

So, although it is entirely possible that (a) some of those former soldiers took part in Operation Market Garden (google it yourself) and (b) some of them may possibly have stepped inside that particular aircraft before, it’s only internet fakers who are making a different story out of the two images for their own purposes.

Now, the Facebook page from which this comes is not the originator of the original collage, but appears to be the originator of the false header statement in the top image. The page, I Wear My Poppy With Pride, is also riddled with random bible verses and has no official relationship with the Royal British Legion nor the Poppy Appeal.

So, why do people do this? I suspect it’s out of a misplaced sense of patriotism at one level, and at another, it’s probably about getting attention for being patriotic in an age when that’s not automatically assumed to be a virtue. And as far as getting attention goes, it’s been very successful, with 23,601 likes, 68,568 shares and 782 comments as at 2218 UTC today.

Thanks to www.tineye.com for all the helps.

UPDATE 0600 UTC 30/09/2015: I’ve cross-posted this to that Facebook post, so I might get a few annoyed visitors here. For their information, this is not an anti-soldier/sailor/airman post; it’s about making sure that you check and can trust what you read, and showing one way to do it. And I’ve got family who are not only serving, but have served and lost their lives in recent deployments.

UPDATE 2350 UTC 09/11/2015: The original post disappeared from the Facebook page in question a little while ago, but re-appeared on 5th November to gather yet more like and potential revenue for whatever group really is behind the page. I’ve re-posted a link to this post to show how it’s possible to check the facts that are asserted without too much difficulty or technical knowledge. After all, it’s OK to be patriotic; it’s not OK to fake your facts.

UPDATE 1200 UTC 03/11/2016: The original post has re-appeared on the Facebook page in question (23/10/2016) without any apology. The cynic in me finds that more than a little cynical …