Archive for the 'General' Category


How strong political views can impact on our ability to analyse data

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

I’m guilty of this and I guess others are as well

An interesting infographic from the US.
Math and Politics


And now… our inaugural New Year’s Day Crossword

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

It is with some considerable trepidation that I step into the estimable shoes of stjohn, who has provided us with splendid Christmas Day cruciverbalism for the last six years.  Fear not, stjohn is merely resting, and may well be setting more puzzles in future.  If this offering gets his famous “nod” then we may even collaborate on a jumbo sometime!

Traditionally members have supplied the answers (and explanations of the wordplay) in the comments, so consider this a spoiler alert and a word of warning not to scroll down if you want to have a crack at it on your own first.  If you’d prefer to print off a copy then you can do so here.

A very Happy New Year to lurkers & posters alike, and all good wishes for 2014.

Tissue Price


Take the 33-1 that UKIP will win Cambourne and Redruth

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013


PaddyPower has put up some more GE2015 single constituency markets including the Cornish seats of Cambourne Redruth which the Tories took off the Lib Dems in 2010.

The latest prices are CON 2/5: LD 5/2: LAB 8/1 and UKIP 33/1

As highlighted by Stuart Dickson and others on a previous threads the UKIP option is a good value bet. When it went up it was priced at 40/1 – odds that quickly moved in.

    What makes this seat particularly interesting is that UKIP held its deposit at the general election and in May’s county council elections chalked up an aggregate vote total that would put it into the lead if repeated at a general election

In many ways it is now a 4-way marginal which means that it could be won on a very low vote share.

It must be UKIP’s best prospect in the West Country, The current betting price is great value.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004


My favourite political betting moment of the year

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

When politics and poker met

The worlds of politics and poker have been feeding off each other for many decades, and in the Middle East’s most discussed and highly charged conflict, the two were about to collide in an unexpected fashion.

An army is on the move, rockets detonate with an unrelenting regularity and the civil war in Syria is reaching its most bloody phase. Prime Ministers take to the nearest camera to deliver a solemn hope for peace, and in the world’s most powerful nation, its political capital is charged with a debate over the best way to proceed. Leading the discourse of war and peace, a senator that only five years ago was an election victory away from becoming President, a man that has been a central figure in American foreign policy for forty years. Senator John McCain of Arizona.

In the cavernous chamber of the Senate, McCain was set to make a contribution to the debate that would be replayed on every national news outlet that very evening. McCain was ready to show the American people just how much he cared about getting the right result, about calling your opponent’s bluff, about knowing when the time has come to strike even the most dangerous of rival’s.

As the next senator rose to deliver his impassioned plea for intervention, John focused on his phone and struck with decisive purpose – he went all in on his > iPhone poker App, and his unfortunate and ill-fated last hand was captured by the nearby television camera. John had done his best, but destiny was not smiling on him that day, a realisation that politicians and poker players know only too well. Later that evening he would make a statement to CNN that all hardened poker players can relate to “As much as I like to always listen in constant rapt attention to the remarks of my colleagues over a three-and-a-half-hour period, occasionally I get a little bored, and so I resorted to poker…but the worst thing about it is, I lost thousands of dollars!”.

The history of these two pastimes doesn’t stop there. President Truman indulged in poker on his lengthy boat vacations, the notorious President Nixon played poker with an obsessional hunger during his World War Two service, and it’s even said that he became such a dedicated player that he once turned down a chance to have dinner with Charles Lindbergh when it conflicted with a poker game. It was later rumoured that a great deal of the money he used to finance his first congressional campaign was funded by card game winnings. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knew President Nixon’s nickname, a title that would fit seamlessly into the 21st century’s phenomenon of television poker; ‘Tricky Dicky’.

Two Arenas, Same Skills

It’s no coincidence that poker finds a place in the heart of so many leading politicians, the two share a strikingly similar skill set to master, and even a similar fundamental approach to success. World famous statistician and politics oracle Nate Silver, a man who plays poker regularly, had this to say “politics and poker share the feature of being both very prosaic and very poetic. Meaning paying attention to the small things ‘winning small bets/door to door canvassing’ leads to a moving moment when ‘you win loads/you give an amazing awe inspiring speech’”.

From this basic principle we can get into the skills that will make or break a politician and poker player’s career. Both must be adept at reading people’s ‘tells’, these are the leaks of information from an opponent’s language, posture, habits, even micro-expressions that can inadvertently reveal the strength of their hand. Valuable information whether you find yourself at the poker table with a flush, or the negation table with a trade agreement. The same principle holds true across each challenge, ‘Strong means weak, weak means strong’. A piece of advice from what many consider to be the poker bible, Mike Caro’s Book of Tells. Next time you find yourself slumped in front of the news, look out for these classic politician manoeuvres and see if you can spot his or her tells:

This is how Hopi Sen put it a few months ago:

… struck me the other day that there are some pretty obvious political tells that many, many politicians use. Here are four.

1. Strings of Adjectives have the opposite meaning than that stated.

This is an innovative, cogent, well-thought through policy.” This is a clear tell of the reverse. Strong means weak. After all, if it was any of these things, you wouldn’t feel the need to tell me, you’d just show me. The longer the string of adjectives, the more unsure the speaker.

2. Statements of desire and contentment mean the reverse.

“I’m happy to answer that” is the classic, but there’s also “I really want to get into the detail” and ‘I want that debate’. No you don’t.

3. Expressions of clarity disguise obfuscation

Let’s be perfectly clear’, ‘I want to be totally open’ : I am about to say something I know is a bit tricksy.

4. The only message that counts comes after a ‘but’.

Of course, the NHS is our top priority for public spending, but” This is where a politician is aware they’re about to deliver an uncomfortable message, so lards it with blather. Ignore everything before the ‘but’. see also, ‘That said’, ‘However’..

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004


Tomorrow’s 2013 SPOTY election: David Herdson says that the value bet could be that Murray doesn’t win

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) is, like X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother or Eurovision, very much an election.  As with all elections, working out the likely chances comes down to correctly understanding four things: the candidates, the campaigns, the voters, and the electoral system.

Since Andy Murray won Wimbledon in the Summer, he’s been extremely long odds on to win, to the extent that if you believe the bookies, he might as well be given the trophy now.  There are indeed good reasons expect his name to end up on the trophy but I’m not quite convinced he’s nailed on.

There are no rules about how the public should assess who they vote for and as such, it’s a very subjective process.  However the following rules of thumb are worth considering:

First-time or rare achievements are rewarded more than the same feat repeated (so don’t expect Chris Froome to win simply because he’s done what Bradley Wiggins did last year).

Sportsmen and women who compete as individuals do better than those who compete in team v team sports.

Those who perform well towards the end of the year stand more chance than those whose achievements came at the start.

Those towards the end of their career do better than those who might have another chance of winning if they don’t this year, except –

Sportsmen and -women very rarely win a second award.

Candidates will do better where they have a sporting or national/regional block vote behind them.

It’s FPTP so multiple candidates from one sport, region or gender can split votes to the benefit of others.

•Watch how the candidates are presented in the first 30 minutes: good early publicity is worth votes.

Emotion matters; so does personality.

To that end, Murray being the first Brit to win a Wimbledon singles title since 1977 (when Wade also went on to win SPOTY), and the first man since 1936, is a more natural successor to Wiggins in SPOTY terms than Froome – though Wiggins is nearer the end of his career than Murray.  The Scot should also benefit from name recognition and a substantial local vote.

On the other hand, there are three reasons that make me pause for thought.  Firstly, those who’ve watched him closely know he has a dry, sardonic wit; those who haven’t are more likely to think him surly.  Again, personality matters.  Secondly, while it might have been the throwaway remark of a teenager, Murray’s comment about supporting anyone playing England still rankles with some English viewers who aren’t tennis fans; there may be some negative voting.  Finally, Murray will not be at the awards ceremony on the night which may make a difference at the margins.

If so, who would they vote for?  Tony McCoy is second-favourite 16/1 with bet365 at the time of writing.  However, I have my doubts: McCoy has already won the trophy once and while he is almost certain to win a Lifetime Achievement award at some point in the future, winning the main trophy again for sustained achievement over a career might be asking too much.

On the other hand, Mo Farah, third favourite at 33/1 with Stan James seems the only value in the field to me.  Unlike Murray, whose achievement was on a British scale (someone will win Wimbledon every year), Farah is a true great of track and field: only the second man in history to hold both World and Olympic 5000m and 10000m titles simultaneously.  There is a risk of a split athletics vote but Farah’s achievement and personality stand out.  Still, I wouldn’t be risking too much on a Mo upset.

Beyond the main prize, there aren’t any betting markets as far as I know but a few predictions just for fun:

The Overseas award usually goes to an athlete, a tennis player or a golfer, however, with the exception of Usain Bolt, there’s no particularly obvious candidate from those sports, and Bolt has already won three of the last five prizes, including last year.  This may be an exception then when another sport gets a look in.  Lionel Messi is one option but with the World Cup next Summer, the panel may feel that award premature, so I’ll go out on a limb and suggest Vettel to be the first F1 winner since 1977.

Past Teams of the Year have been dominated by national representative teams.  On that basis, the British and Irish Lions is the most likely, following their tour win in Australia.  That, however, was a competition between only two teams and again, 2013 may be a SPOTY to break the mould here.  To my mind, the most obvious winner should be Team Sky, for a second successive Tour, plus numerous other wins.  Whether the selection panel – chosen by, though not of, the BBC – will allow media considerations to influence them is to be borne in mind.  A third choice then is one I make with both my heart and head.  If the measure of a team is its ability to rise above the sum of its individual components, the Bradford City is that team, becoming in 2013 the first fourth-tier side to reach a major Wembley final, and the first to defeat three (near full-strength) top-flight teams in one cup run: one over two legs, another who reached the Champions League knock-out stages, and a third who went on to win the FA Cup.

Coach of the Year can be tied up with the Team of the Year, but if it isn’t, then Ben Ainsley ought to be the favourite by some way, assuming he’s eligible (there have been foreign winners who’ve coached British teams; there’s never been a British winner who’s coached – or skippered in his case – a foreign team).  The fact that he’s nominated in the main category may count against him in this one.

The Lifetime Achievement award is one of the most unpredictable: the winner can be domestic or foreign; recently retired, still active or having long-since left the field; and a competitor, coach or administrator.  Starting from a clean slate, by far the most obvious candidate is Sir Alex Ferguson but he won the award back in 2001.  Assuming they don’t break with precedent and award him a second trophy we’re probably looking overseas or recognition for deeds some time gone.  That latter group is huge but Sachin Tendulkar would fit the former very well.

I don’t know enough about the other awards to even make a commentary, never mind a half-informed guess.  Whatever, while this SPOTY may not be a betting classic, enjoy the show, the sports and the betting opportunities they bring.

David Herdson


What we can learn from Nelson Mandela

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Mandela 1

Henry G Manson gives his views

The passing of Nelson Mandela gives cause to reflect on his life, struggles and achievements. His gigantic life is something so many have drawn from, particularly following his release from imprisonment 23 years ago. It’s the character of the man is what gave him his worldwide authority. It’s should give cause to pause for a moment and consider how we might better serve our country and each other through the political lessons Mandela had to share:

“Let bygones be bygones. Let what has happened pass.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.”

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

When we look at British politics today we see screeching and squabbling over statistics, motives are always questioned, outsiders are feared and accused. A political party is judged not by the values it commands but by the newspaper editorials it attracts or the percentage it wins in the latest poll. Too often image trumps ideas and our voters are not viewed as citizens to be engaged and represented, but instead data to be identified, counted and arranged like beans. People have never had access to so much information and they show disinterest or distaste in our current political system.

Most of us in the UK cannot begin to understand and appreciate the troubles South Africa has experienced over the last 50 years and the life Mandela inhabited. But if we believe in politics to be a force for good then we must improve our conduct and remember what we’re doing this all for. The passing of Nelson Mandela is as good a time as any to hold a mirror up to our politics and endeavour to do better.

Henry G Manson


Bookending the 20th Century: South Africa’s gifts to Humanity

Friday, December 6th, 2013

In ancient Rome, the passing of great leaders would be marked by their elevation to the status of gods.  While religion has moved on, the death of Nelson Mandela will no doubt see an equivalent secular process – and rightly so.  In captivity, his name motivated a movement; in office, it symbolised unity; in retirement, it became iconic; in death, the transformation to legendary status will become complete.

Few men, and fewer women, reach such heights.  To do so requires not only great achievement in deeds but the ability to inspire beyond death.  Washington, Ghandi and Churchill have already made that transition; Mandela is almost certainly set to join them.  In doing so, a little of the true person is lost in the formation of the legend – but then these modern gods were well aware of the symbolic potency of their image during life (and indeed, helped shape them), as well as of the sacrifices that came with such iconic status.

Remarkably, for a relatively small country, South Africa produced two of the truly great figures of the 20th century, and for much the same reasons, even if the earlier is now rather unjustly forgotten.  Mandela’s greatness lay not only in his moral leadership of the opposition to the oppression of apartheid (even if in absentia for much of that fight), but even more so in how he won without succumbing to bitterness and how, after winning that battle, he used his status to bind and unite rather than to impose a different oppression.

Likewise, nearly a century earlier, another South African, Jan Christian Smuts, used similar vision, empathy and leadership to bring his people to accept a settlement of reconciliation – though in his case from a position of their having been defeated – both after the Boer War and in the formation of the Union of South Africa.

The nature of both men meant they would inevitably outgrow their country and become global leaders: Smuts was a leading voice of internationalism for four decades, being intimately involved with the creation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations amongst many other achievements; Mandela became the conscience of, and example to, a continent and a generation.

No man is perfect, and of course criticisms can be levelled: both, despite serving well into their seventies, never really prepared adequately for a handover and both relied excessively on their individual leadership.  In Smuts’ case, that resulted in his defeat to Malan in the 1948 election and hence the introduction of apartheid (even though Malan won a 12% smaller vote share than Smuts’ party – and we think Britain’s FPTP field is biased!); in Mandela’s, successive ANC administrations have struggled with corruption.

South Africa, a medium-sized and young country, has already given more than its fair share of gifts to humanity.  Bookending the 20th century stand the two greatest.  Perhaps in a world of instant mass communication and intrusive reporting, trivialities will prevent such greatness ever again being attained.  If so, let us pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, the last mortal to enter the modern Pantheon.

David Herdson


Only problem with the Dimbleby tattoo bet is how you’ll prove that he’s done it

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

In a comment in the story Dimbleby says “The only person who will see my tattoo is the undertaker.”

That’s all a bit morbid though Hills might accept an admission by the QuestionTime presenter that he has gone ahead rather than seeing the actual body art.

Mike Smithson

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