Not Saussure

October 31, 2006

The Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 11:14 pm


Nick Mamatas, who apparently has some preternatural sense when it comes to finding interesting characters online, points us to an aspiring writer who is apparently having difficulty selling his work to publishers, and has come up with a theory to explain his lack of success: There’s a conspiracy in publishing against men — fomented, of course, by women.[…]

This fellow’s argument for a female publishing conspiracy against men is founded on an ignorance of the publishing industry and a clutch of logical fallacies, so it’s not terribly surprising that every published author who has come across it seems to get a giggle out of it; it’s almost charming how clueless it is. But the argument does serve to illustrate a point, which we might as well call the Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection, which is: All things being equal, the simplest reason that your work has been rejected is usually the correct one.

For example, let’s say I am an unpublished male writer whose work is continually rejected by publishers. Which of these two reasons is more likely?

1. There is a vast and grand conspiracy within the publishing industry, engineered by women, to keep men from being published;

2. My work isn’t worth being published.

Source: Whatever: The Occam’s Razor Theory of Literary Rejection


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October 30, 2006

Charlotte Wyatt and reporting restrictions

Filed under: Law, press, UK — notsaussure @ 11:43 pm

I’m blogging this because the story’s suddenly started popping up all over the place, and some bloggers seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’ve no particular axe to grind, but I do get irritated when people completely misunderstand what a court here is trying to do. Let’s see whether Technorati tags have any effect and people searching for further and better particulars find this.

The story concerns Charlotte Wyatt, the prematurely-born daughter of Darren and Debbie Wyatt. She was the subject of a “do not resuscitate” order and was at the centre of a prolonged legal battle to have this order lifted. (more…)

Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.

Filed under: Bloody Yanks, Books, Politics — notsaussure @ 2:20 pm

… as Job 31:35 was so fond of remarking.

In a controversy touched on by Tim Worstall over the weekend, the US Congressional Elections have taken a turn that’s bizarre even by their standards.

It all seems to have started when Senator George Allen, a Republican senator from Virginia who’s by all accounts a bit of an oaf, sent a press release to The Drudge Report complaining about the literary work of his Democrat opponent, Jim Webb, who’s written novels based on his wartime experiences in Vietnam. Senator Allen warns (more…)

A Country Ruled by Faith

Filed under: usa, Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 2:44 am

He remembered, in this light, the first feeling he had experienced in that non-Muslim country: “I could feel the presence of evil…. The demonic presence is real in a place that has rejected Allah.” His task was not simply to defeat an enemy force, but to carry Mohammed to the benighted. “It is the principalities of darkness. It is a spiritual enemy that will only be defeated if we come against him in the name of Allah.” The fundamentalist groups he addressed responded eagerly when he attacked the “godless” courts of his own country. “Don’t you worry about what these courts say, our Allah reigns supreme.”

Source: The New York Review of Books: A Country Ruled by Faith

Ah. It’s almost Halloween and my computer is clearly in need of a good exorcist, since the chap quoted in the New York Review of Books is not, in fact, Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri Mohammed. (more…)

October 29, 2006

Tariq Ghaffur’s Proposed ban on flag-burning

Filed under: civil liberties, UK — notsaussure @ 10:42 pm

‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello; what’s all this, then?

Police chiefs have urged ministers to criminalise flag-burning in a move to crack down on extremist protesters.

Scotland Yard has submitted the idea to the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, alongside proposals to ban demonstrators from covering their faces.

Police are also asking for greater powers to arrest protesters seeking to inflame tensions under the package drawn up by Britain’s most senior Muslim officer.

Tarique Ghaffur, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told BBC Radio Five Live that Britain was seen as soft on extremist demonstrators.

Indeed,  Assistant Commissioner Ghaffur sees this as creating ‘a real image problem’ (Radio 5 interview, about 2 minutes 40 seconds in); he refers at length to the scenes back in February at the London demonstrations about the Danish cartoons. when the Met were heavily criticised for not arresting demonstrators there and then.

The Met’s explanation back then wasn’t, as I recall, that they couldn’t think of anything for which to arrest the demonstrators.   Certainly not;

As the clamour for action grew, police sources said there were no arrests on Friday because of fears of a riot. A senior Scotland Yard officer said: “We have to take the overall nature of the protesters into account. If they are overheated and emotional we don’t go in.

“It’s like a risk assessment; you have to look at the crowd you are dealing with. If we went in to arrest one person with a banner the crowd would turn on us and people would get hurt.”

He said it was entirely possible that “key players” in the protests, some of whom were already known to police, could be pursued by prosecutors.

The Metropolitan Police said: “Arrests if necessary will be made at the most appropriate time. The Met has several different means of collecting the necessary evidence should it be required post-event. All complaints made to police will be passed to the Public Order Crime Unit for investigation.”

So which is it?   Had they insufficient powers or did they want to avoid a riot?   Maybe this is why Assistant Commissioner Ghaffur also wants some water cannons.   

That’ll do the trick, all right; a peaceful demonstration is organised about Iraq or something, some loonies turn up and try — as AC Ghaffur explains in the Radio 5 interview — to hijack it by burning flags and brandishing offensive placards, and out roll the water cannon to fire, like the rain God sends to fall,  on the upright and the wicked alike.   Soon put an end to silly demonstrations.

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Iraq war ‘fuelling UK terrorism’ — according to Downing Street memo (but not Downing Street spokesman)

Filed under: Iraq, Panic, Spin — notsaussure @ 9:24 pm

A memo, supposedly prepared by ‘senior Downing Street officials’ has been leaked to the Sunday Telegraph (though Downing Street deny it was written by their people, they’re apparently not contesting its existence). This, on the Telegraph’s account,

admits that, in an ideal world, “the Muslim would not perceive the UK and its foreign policies as hostile” – effectively accepting the argument that Britain’s military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has served as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist terrorist groups.

I don’t know if there’s a typo and they meant to say ‘the Muslim world’ or something, or if ‘senior Downing street officials’ really do talk about ‘the Muslim’ (bit touchy, don’tcha know; sound chap, nevertheless, particularly when led by British officers). I do know, because I know someone who was there, that at a meeting at Downing Street between senior civil servants and law enforcement officials held in 1993 to discuss the Russian mafia and suchlike, the Downing Street chaps referred throughout to the ‘Soviet Union’ and the ‘Warsaw Pact’, so nothing would surprise me; as he said, ‘but I thought the reason we were having this meeting was that don’t exist any more.’ (more…)

October 28, 2006

Giving the victim’s family a say

Filed under: Law — notsaussure @ 5:27 pm

One of this government’s big ideas for wrecking with ill-considered populist measures modernising the justice system is, when a trial really is unavoidable — you can’t hand out on the spot fines for murder, after all — to give the victims and their family ‘a greater say’ in the sentencing process. This has had a less than enthusiastic reception from many people involved in the administration of justice, but Lord Falconer is keen, nevertheless. Back in June,

Lord Falconer told the North of England Victims’ Association those who lost loved ones to crime were in effect handed life sentences.

He said a pilot scheme to let relatives make court statements before killers are sentenced must show “just” results.

I just hope they don’t come across any grieving relatives like Zarvari Bibi, the mother of the taxi driver Jamshed Khan, who was allegedly murdered in Pakistan by Mirza Tahir Hussain   Mr Hussain is from Leeds and  is to be hanged on New Year’s Eve, despite grave concerns about both the quality of the evidence and the legality of his conviction in Pakistan. His execution was supposed to be on November 1st but was postponed because it might spoil Charles’ and Camilla’s visit, with which it would have coincided. We’ll all have our minds on other matters come New Year’s Eve, obviously, and politicians will be taking a well-deserved break so they won’t be making a fuss, either.Anyway, here’s the victim’s mother:

Zarvari Bibi, the dead man’s mother, said last night: “I visit the graveyard every day and spend the whole day sitting near [my son’s] grave and return in the evening.
“God has done justice and it should be pursued and they should also provide justice. I demand it from them.
“They should do what is right and what is the will of God. The case has been decided by all sides and that decision should be implemented.”

She said that if Mr Hussain is not hanged, she will take her own life by setting herself on fire.

Mrs Bibi’s family could have had the death sentence commuted, had they been willing to accept a financial payment from Mr Hussain’s relatives in return.

While obviously Zarvari Bibi should have everyone’s deepest sympathy for her terrible loss, it’s difficult to see what assistance she — or someone who, understandably enough, felt as does she — could be to any British court in determining an appropriate sentence; she’d demand a full term life sentence  and would be dissatisfied when the judge had to tell her, as he would, that her son’s murder didn’t attract one. And it wouldn’t bring her son back, of course.

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The Wild East

Filed under: Foreigners, Russia/USSR — notsaussure @ 3:12 pm

Via Tim Worstall, an account of official dinners and privatisation in Tiblisi from Johan Norberg. As Mr Norberg says, ‘When Georgians do things, they apparently take it seriously’.

A friend of mine in the airline business went to Tiblisi about 15 years ago to talk about setting up a joint venture with the state airline there (it fell though because Gatwick had concerns about Georgians and security; for some reason they seemed to think it was a bit like setting up a joint venture with Air Sicily).

Anyway, my chum came back a bit shaken because he and his colleagues had entertained the local bigwigs for dinner at the hotel where they were staying, the Metchi Palace (it was then owned by Kempinski Hotels, so things might have changed since, but it was still a five-star hotel run by a major Western chain).

They ‘d been a bit worried, when first they arrived, to see a sign there saying that firearms were not allowed in the restaurant and to find that they had to pass through an airport-style metal detector before going in for breakfast.

They were even more surprised when, as they went in for dinner with their guests, not only their guests’ bodyguards but also all the guests — including the Chairman of the Georgian national airline, a junior finance minister, the Minister for Aviation and several senior civil servants — had handguns to check in with the Austrian security folks, who seemed to think it as normal as giving your coat to the cloakroom.

As Garry said, ‘This never happens when we take BA out for dinner’.

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Critical Thinking and undistributed middles

Filed under: Panic, Philosopy — notsaussure @ 2:20 pm

Garry, writing at The Sharpener, takes issue with a prevalent line of muddled argument both among politicians and in the blogoball (© Garry; he says he’s dissatisfied with the other word and this term has the advantage of not being it). He gives a non-specific example thus:

Let’s say that A is a defined characteristic or experience and that X is a particular act. We do a study and discover that every single person who commits act X has first conformed to characteristic A. Can we conclude that characteristic A causes act X?

and then shows how it’s applied in specific cases;

Let’s try a real example. Characteristic A will be defined as those who have smoked cannabis. Act X will be injecting heroin. In that example, studies have shown that almost all injectors of heroin were cannabis smokers first. I’ve seen any number of politicians say that this proves that cannabis is a “gateway drug” but it is a conclusion which cannot be drawn.

Here’s another example. Characteristic A will be defined as those who have smoked cigarettes. Act X will be injecting heroin. In that example, studies have shown that almost all injectors of heroin were cigarette smokers first. Now if you’re a smoker and you think I’m wrong in the previous example, you might be starting to feel unease here. Doesn’t this prove that tobacco is also a ‘gateway drug’? No, it bloody well doesn’t.

It’s also, as he says, used of suicide bombers and Islam:


October 27, 2006

Blunkett again…decisive action against terrorist threat

Filed under: civil liberties, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 8:14 pm

I don’t whether to laugh or cry — our liberty and safety is in the hands of buffoons like this…

The BBC reports,

It is a story that has dropped in to many an e-mail in-box or been passed on by word-of-mouth. And its distribution has picked up in these times of heightened security since the 11 September and 7 July attacks.

The characters in the story and its location vary, but the plot stays mostly the same. It runs as follows:

    “My friend’s Aunt Sally was in a queue and this Middle Eastern-looking bloke in front of her dropped his wallet. When she gave it back to him, he told her to avoid central London on Saturday because something big might happen. Tell as many people as you can.”

Most people sigh, and delete the e-mail.

Most people, but not, apparently David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary. Oh, no.

An entry in his newly-published diary reveals how he had spoken to an old school friend, who had heard the story involving the return of a wallet to an Arab man and a warning not to be in London on 11 November.

“I immediately registered the significance of this,” Blunkett wrote at the time. “The 11th of November is Armistice Day, the one day in the year when all leading politicians from the three parties, the Queen, other members of the Royal family, and the leading personnel of the armed services are in the same place at the same time – a known time, in central London.

“I decided that I should at least tell Tony Blair as it was absolutely clear that nobody had fully thought through the significance.

“We agreed there was no way we could possibly cancel Armistice Day, but we were certainly going to have to take increased precautions.”

Then later: “Sunday 11th of November: And we’ve come through Remembrance Sunday safely. All the worry was for nothing, thank God.”

God Almighty! So, not was he signing warrants and whatever on being woken up in the middle of the night while on the edge of breakdown; he was making his informed assessments of terror threats on the basis of well-known email hoaxes and urban myths. And he was passing these bloody myths on to Blair, who, when Blunkett says, ‘And I know this is true because it happened to a man my mate works with….’ believed him.

Bloody hell, I mean, you’d have thought he’d have learned his lesson about dodgy intelligence briefings by then, wouldn’t you?

Just as well the Abolition of Parliament Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill wasn’t then in force, isn’t it? Some minister examines his emails one morning, finds one that begins ‘ Urgent! Pass this on to everyone in your address book! This is not a HOAX!’ and before you know it, they’ll have banned disposable chopsticks and coca cola because you can’t be too careful.

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