Five Things #9

Between the Dark and the Dark by Deji Bryce Olukotun is a powerful story about hard choices and the potentially calamitous consequences of failing to recognise cultural differences.

Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci came up with a radically different bridge design to connect the city of Constantinople with its neighbor city Galata. Now, researchers at MIT have proven that his bridge would have worked.

Daniel Crown looks at Hnefatafl, the board game at the heart of Viking culture.

Dean Burnett explains, scientifically, why “Edgy” comedy can get fu*ked.

And finally, Nick Barlow reviews the various parties’ prospects in the upcoming UK general election and concludes that things are far too volatile to give predictions about what the result of the election might be.


When I walked into the office yesterday, the first thing that anyone said to me was: “Has the UK managed to organise an election yet?” It comes to something when even Belgians (six months after an election, and still no federal government) are finding British politics amusingly dysfunctional.

But now everything has changed and the UK Parliament has very nearly agreed to hold a general election… Just before Christmas.

Inevitably, the pundits are out in force but I really don’t think that anyone can predict what will happen next. Both of the main parties have rendered themselves unelectable. Labour are, deservedly, tanking in the polls and, as far as Brexit is concerned, the Tories have managed to both disappoint Leavers and alienate Remainers — it’s difficult to see where they expect to find any votes at all.

This all suggests that the misleadingly named First Past the Post electoral system that Britain insists on retaining is liable to deliver an utterly random result. But probably not so random that Lib Dems win a majority and finally bring an end to this whole Brexit mess.

So, as this laughing stock of a Parliament dissolves itself I am left with the dilemma of whether to stock up on popcorn or just try to ignore this next chapter of the English farce called Brexit.


I mentioned, last week, that Flanders now has a government. This is a three-party coalition made up of the centre-right separatists of the N-VA, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal OpenVLD. Notable is the fact that, even though the far-right Vlaams Belang did well in the election, they have been excluded from the government.

Inevitably, some people are not happy and the first of (the organisers hope) a series of demonstrations will take place this coming Sunday.

The part of the article that leapt out at me, though, was this:

The Facebook page of the event announced that banners and flags are welcome, but “slogans with forbidden signs and racism” will not be tolerated.

Anyone who feels the need to tell their supporters to keep their racism under wraps has lost the argument before they began.

Five Things #7: Better late than never

This post has taken quite a bit longer to complete than I expected, so apologies in advance if a couple of the below links feel a bit stale. They’re still worth reading, though.

“Hence gradually the onion skins have been peeled away until the fetid heart of [Brexit] is exposed: not a policy but an undeliverable fantasy composed of lies and articulated in the language of spite, contempt and hate.” — Chris Grey on the Supreme Court judgment and its aftermath.

On a related note, Nick Barlow points out that democracy is a process, not an event.

I loved Spitting Image back in the day and was delighted to hear that the satirical puppet show is making a a comeback. Adam J Smith and Jo Waugh take this opportunity to point out that there has been a problem inherent in British caricature for 300 years.

Ben Orlin explains why 1 isn’t a prime number.

And Wumo explains the stock market:



Whenever Belgium has an election, much time is spent on forming coalitions and these happen at all levels. The last set of elections were on May 26th and, while the federal government negotiations are still ongoing, the separatist, centre-right and liberal parties in the Flemish parliament have managed to agree a coalition which means that Flanders now has a government.

It’s not been the best of starts for the leader of this coalition, Jan Jambon, who was caught playing a game on his smartphone while a parliamentary session was in progress. He does, however, have an explanation:

… he was playing ‘Toy Blast’ and not ‘Angry Birds’ as had been widely reported.

So that’s alright then.

Brexit facts worth repeating: There is no such thing as a clean break

Whenever I look at the UK press’ reporting of Brexit (which is probably more often than I should), I am repeatedly astonished by the extent to which clearly nonsensical claims are treated seriously. So kudos must go to Simon Wren-Lewis for pointing out (yet again) that the Brexit hardliner’s obsession with a so-called Clean Break is utter nonsense:

A clean break Brexit inevitably leads to 10 years at least of negotiation with the EU, negotiations in which the UK side will eventually be forced to accept the terms the ERG now despise. The longer our government holds out in those negotiations the longer it takes. In reality the so called clean break Brexit is a promise to continue Brexit negotiations but from an even weaker position.

Wren-Lewis also notes that the reason Brexit hasn’t happened yet is that Brexiters keep voting against it.

The reality is that the only way for Brexit to be done or over with is for Parliament to revoke Article 50 and bring this whole sorry pretence to an end.

Five things #6

“But who’s the real freak – the activist whose determination has single-handedly started a powerful global movement for change, or the middle-aged man taunting a child with Asperger syndrome from behind the safety of their computer screens?” Jennifer O’Connell asks why Greta Thunberg is so triggering for certain men.

Jesse Singal discusses Dave Chappelle, political correctness and cancel culture and argues that we should recognise the elitism of the Super-Woke.

David Spiegelhalter discusses the importance of statistical literacy, and plugs his book a couple of times. The book is The Art of Statistics and I do plan on reading it once the paperback edition is published.

As Rambo: Last Blood arrives on the big screen, Mark Harrison looks back at Son Of Rambow and the joys of DIY filmmaking.

And finally: Happy birthday COBOL. 60 years old this month and still surprisingly popular. There’s hope for me yet.

Two sides to every discussion

I have been trying to avoid obsessing over Brexit for the past few months. For all the shouting among UK politicians and all the breathless reporting in the press, nothing has really changed since December. A withdrawal agreement has been negotiated and Parliament still needs to decide whether to ratify it, or crash out of the EU with no deal or revoke Article 50 and bring this whole sorry mess to an end.

With that in mind, Chris Grey makes a point worth repeating.

An additional issue to consider is whether the EU would countenance an extension anyway

Much of the recent Parliamentary maneuverings have been around forcing Boris Johnson to request an extension to Britain’s EU membership before the exit date of October 31st. What no-one seems to be taking into account is that there is no guarantee that the EU will agree to such a request. Furthermore, given that the UK is still running around in circles, there is a good chance that leaders of the other EU countries will say no.

Back in March, when Theresa May asked for an extension, Macron was very vocal about not wanting the UK to still be sucking up the EU’s time and attention after the EU parliament elections in May. While he was the most vocal of the EU leaders, he wasn’t completely isolated and several other countries were leaning towards the view that, if the UK is going to crash out anyway, it would be better to cut the process short and get it over with.

After that extension was granted, Parliament immediately went on holiday and then the Conservative party decided that the best use of their time would be to organise yet another leadership election. And now the UK is stuck with a prime minister whose dishonesty is so bare-faced that no-one — not even his own brother — is willing to trust him.

Parliament probably is going to force Johnson to ask for an extension and, when he does so, the leaders of the other EU countries will ask what would be the point of such an extension. I am not convinced that the UK has a good answer to this.

On a related note, if anyone reading this happens to be a student, don’t forget to register to vote.