Archive for the ‘fisking’ Category

Laura Rozen takes us to meet the Iranian government’s loyalist bloggers.

The hardliners have fielded hundreds of pro-regime bloggers, most writing in Persian, emphasizing particularly the importance of supporting the Supreme Leader. The bloggers range from students to clerics, with many claiming to be members of the Basij and children of war veterans or martyrs. Virtually all are hard-line or extremist in their views. Some bloggers appear to be popular and often draw many comments from their posts.

You bet they do. It would be offensive to speculate exactly who we all know would end up doing this job in a hypothetical fascist Britain. I’ll leave it up to you, although I will point out that at least two bloggers who would be regulars on Newsnight and in the British Gazette‘s opinion pages in that scenario…already are regulars in the MSM.

I don’t know if they’re doing anything technical to favour their bloggers and their trolls over the other guys; if the loyalists are more likely to be hosted in Iran, the policy of slashing international bandwidth while leaving the networks up might help. But that’s not what interests me right now.

What role, politically, do trolls play? On one hand, it’s clearly possible to use the Internet as a mobilisation tool for good, or at the very least, for nihilistic shit-flinging. Examples; this slightly disappointing interview with the Obama campaign’s CTO, and this blitz on a bunch of bigots’ facetwitspace accounts, respectively. Or this scientific paper; oddly, when a random Internet person actually did some climate science they didn’t find that it was all made up.

But on the other hand, there’s a great towering mountain of drivel, a spuming, stinking Eyjafjallajökull of bullshit – an Icelandic or Hawaiian eruption, one that keeps burbling on without working up enough pressure to explode, but does keep belching toxic gas.

Personally, I suspect that the use of Internet pond life in politics is that it’s a way of tapping the energies of people who otherwise wouldn’t get involved, just as lefties tend to hope it might be the same thing. I just differ on which group of people are being mobilised. It’s hard to get The Authoritarians to initiate anything; they’re obsessed with leaders by definition. And it’s also unlikely that you’ll get people who are convinced of the futility of collective action to start a movement. Further, this guy wasn’t going to take to the streets, was he?

Get them in front of a keyboard, pass them some talking points, though, and they’re happy to bombard selected targets with abuse. I further observe that we have about three major examples of this – one is the US, and specifically the Bush re-election campaign, another would be Russia in the early Putin years (Andrew Wilson’s classic Virtual Politics (I reviewed it here) is good on the importance of the temnik talking points system), and the latest would be Iran today.


Aaronovitch Watch reflects upon dinner with Denis MacShane. There’s an important point here, and one that was well made as a by-product of Nick Davies’ brilliant reporting on Operation PENTAMETER 2, a giant police sweep looking for prostitutes brought into the UK by force that failed to find even one. It turned out that the entire project was driven by policy-based evidence – a succession of politicos and thinktanks progressively taking what had once been the upper bound in an actual study, treating it as an actual forecast, and then adding a bit.

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity of discussing this with a source in the Met vice squad, and the take-home message is Davies was being conservative – it was actually worse than that.

Anyway, one of the most egregious examples of PBE in the story was the fault of none other than MacShane, who promptly responded by writing to the Guardian and accusing Davies of “taking the side of the managers of the sex industry”. As Davies pointed out in the original story, the whole thing followed the pattern of the campaign for war with Iraq with uncanny accuracy.

There was the exaggeration by stripping out caveats, the practice of using deliberately extreme limiting cases as central forecasts, the search for anyone who would provide the right kind of intelligence when the intelligence services’ intelligence didn’t fit around the policy…and the shameless red-baiting attacks on anyone who disagreed. Sniff, sniff. Are you a good anti-Fascist? Will you condemn, etc, etc?

The lesson, however, is that some people seem to gravitate to this set of tactics or political style (because that’s what it is); if Denis MacShane worked for the Party of Kittens, he’d be secretly briefing the press that Mickey Mouse was part of a decadent Hollywood-liberal elite in league with feline leukaemia, based on his summary of a leaked report from the newly established Council for a Flea-Free Future, and if you called him out on it, he’d get all the members of the Accuracy in Cat-Related Media mailing list to write and accuse you of being objectively pro-dog.

Come to think of it, it’s part of the package of modern thinking; you need a Boris Johnson-esque clown figure, a Tony Blair-esque tebbly tebbly concerned type, and a MacShane-esque underhand thug.

If you think the Superfreaks had demonstrated the truth of the Dunning-Kruger effect well enough, especially after this further hammering, and their attempt to gain everyone’s esteem by having NewsCorp send out copyright nastygrams, think again.

Here’s some science, via Lou Grinzo’s blog. We’ve been taking very, very thin samples of the leafmould in the bottom of a rather special Irish lake (peat – not much oxygen, so things *last*), and it’s possible to draw some interesting conclusions about the Younger Dryas event, which flipped the planet into an ice age 13,000 years ago after a huge ice barrier in North America collapsed and let vast amounts of fresh water pour into the Atlantic.

The killer detail, literally: the new ice age kicked off within months. We had thought it took decades, but instead it tore in within a year. A year. No time to adjust; not even that much time to flee.

This should surely kill off any daft ideas of fiddling with the atmosphere. Shouldn’t it?

OK, time to make the rubble bounce. There’s a nice online visualiser for climate data here, (thanks!) so we can have a lovely little chart.

OK, this shows the GISTEMP land-ocean mean for as long as they’ve been measuring, as the red line. As you can see, that sucker’s going up. As you can also see, the variance is considerable – it bounces about quite a lot. The green line shows the trend. Over on the left, I’ve plotted trendlines starting 1998, dark blue, and 1999, purple.

As you can see, the hot year 1998 makes the trend look flatter over the next ten years – but it’s still upwards, because this is a trend estimate, not just a line drawn from one end of the plot to the other. The computer wouldn’t do anything that dishonest. But just to illustrate it, I’ve added a trend plot from 1992 to 2006, in light blue. Scary, huh? Going up like a rocket.

Of course it is; because it’s completely meaningless. I selected those dates because 1992 was an unusual cold year caused by a volcanic eruption and 2006 was hot, which is no different to picking 1998 as a start point because it was hot.

If you do what Duff did, and forget that it is now 2009, as you can see from the chart, the trend in the last ten years would be going up FASTER than the trend across the whole dataset.

Someone arguing in good faith would have immediately dropped their sublime confidence at 0001Z 01/01/09 and started buying inland property, bullets, and toilet paper, to say nothing of apologising to the world at large.

Craig Murray seems to have taken a blog pill.

Britain’s most disgusting journalist, New Labour creep and Jack Straw cheerleader Michael White, is on Sky News trying to justify his New Labour chums…

That information comes from two sources both of which I trust not at all – White and a New Labour minister. …

It is bad enough that he gets to bully everyone on the Guardian who criticises New Labour. White is Associate Editor of the Guardian and he regularly hints to other journalists that his friend the City Minister, Lord Myners, Chairman of the Guardian Media Group, will be most unhappy with their anti New Labour stories.

White is the most disgusting reptile in the British media, which is saying a lot. He is on a salary of £182,000 at the Guardian, incidentally….

Tory blogs had become very popular as showing opposition to a rightly very unpopular governemt. But what the stupid, stupid, stupid thousand times hypocrite Dale shows is that the Tories are just the same kind of tribal predators as New Labour, simply itching for their turn to get their snouts in the trough.

Dale’s credibility as a blogger has been entirely compromised by his support for the Nadine Dorries scam. Actually, he’s only a Tory version of Michael White, with a thin veneer of good nature stretched over the hard party man…

Here are two news stories whose contrast should tell you a lot, via Charlie Stross. Spy chiefs fear Chinese cyber attack:

INTELLIGENCE chiefs have warned that China may have gained the capability to shut down Britain by crippling its telecoms and utilities.

They have told ministers of their fears that equipment installed by Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, in BT’s new communications network could be used to halt critical services such as power, food and water supplies.

And here’s F-Secure’s take on the big story that supposedly-Chinese hackers created a botnet of compromised Windows machines in Tibetan and Chinese-dissident organisations that let them remotely activate and monitor webcams and microphones.

The first thing is that the Times story is a classic of the discourse of “cyberwar”. Threats are by definition from state actors, Dr Evil is behind everything, and the solution turns out to be indistinguishable from giving lots of money to favoured military-industrial vendors. And there is no sign of any engineers anywhere near the story – just that very British product, the intelligence-administrative complex, telling itself stories.

But surely there is a risk from Teh Huawei? Well. First of all, what are we trying to protect? “Security” isn’t an answer. There are, as far as I can see, essentially three things an attacker could do in the BT core network – crash the whole thing (denial of service), spy on somebody’s traffic, or spoof a network entity, to pose as one in order to misroute traffic for some sinister aim. The horrors described in the article are presumably thought to be possible consequences of a massive denial of service attack.

How would they go about attacking it? Well, the whole point here is that they can attack from the public Internet. (If they can attack from within BT, it doesn’t matter whose routers we buy…) Physical layer attacks are much less dangerous because you would need to do much more work for every unit of trouble caused – you’d need to physically tap wires and find ways of backhauling the traffic you tapped.

So we’re concerned about a breach of Internet security, which implies that the crucial element in our defence will be to prevent malicious traffic getting access to the system’s administrative features. For our purposes, a secret backdoor is essentially the same as an administrator interface.

Well, that’s good news – this would be absolutely no different if the equipment came from Cisco Systems, Alcatel, Marconi as was, Nokia, ZTE, Motorola, NEC or anyone else, and the security solutions involved are applicable across them all, being essentially good internetworking practice. And 21CN’s architecture actually makes an attack from the IP layer rather difficult. It’s probably worth opening the Wikipedia page in another tab to follow this bit.

21CN is made up of Multi-Service Access Nodes (MSANs), which replace the old local exchanges, terminate the copper wires from your house, and switch different kinds of traffic into appropriate pipes – steam voice gets converted to VoIP at this point as well, metro-nodes, which are the gateway routers to the core network, core nodes, which are really big MPLS routers, and iNodes, which are voice softswitches and which will control calls, video sessions etc. Huawei’s bit is the MSAN, plus some of the optical splitters, repeaters and such.

Importantly, the MSAN isn’t an Internet entity; it is a Layer 2 Ethernet device, which talks to the metronode it’s connected to. In 21CN, both other ISPs and BT Retail are sold wholesale service in the form of Ethernet links, and the MSAN is responsible for putting the traffic into the right link, but the metronode is the first element to actually route Internet packets. Therefore, even if the Chinese were to secretly control all the MSANs, they would have to create a new Wholesale Broadband Connect Ethernet pipe from each one in order to get the traffic out to the Internet. And to control it, they would have to first of all get in, then break out of the encapsulation to access the MSAN itself.

And most of the IP layer equipment, including the big routers that link the whole thing to the Internet, is made by Alcatel, Cisco, or Juniper Networks; in fact, 21CN has a fair amount of diversity, which is usually good from a security standpoint. So I would suggest that this is a classic movie plot threat. Like most of them, of course, it taps deep political assumptions and vested interests; there is no evidence of Huawei’s equipment being secretly controllable by the Chinese intelligence service whatsoever, but there are a lot of rightwing congressmen who just know it, and they receive contributions of funds from competing vendors with unstartling regularity.

And more to the point, what is the evidence that Huawei is any more likely to be spying on its customers than the alternatives? If the equipment came from Cisco Systems, as some of it does, shouldn’t we worry that the Americans have secretly fiddled with it? If from Alcatel, as some of it does, what about the French? (Don’t laugh, they’re building a Total Info Awareness clone.) The Swedish government wants to run absolutely all Internet traffic on its territory through the facilities of the FRA, its national signals-intelligence agency, so obviously Ericsson (and Juniper, which is an Ericsson division) can be ruled right out.

However, we don’t have a single documented case of any of these things happening. In fact, the best documented telco core-network hack, the Vodafone Greece case, involved an Ericsson AXE10 switch and specifically the lawful-interception system, which is really a nonsecret backdoor into the switch for the cops and spooks to listen in. (And the iNodes in 21CN? They’re AXE10s. ) So it’s quite possible that the security bureaucrats might be the cause of the security threat.

After all, they have Windows PCs in their offices. And they get hacked. By the Chinese. And they *do* have back-door access. Now, no-one knows who was behind the Vodafone Greece case, but we do know who is behind the vast majority of real information security breaches: non-state actors. But for some reason, there is a strange kind of cognitive bias against accepting the reality and agency of non-state actors. Just as a certain kind of government official cannot believe that guerrillas or terrorists can exist without the Dr Evil figure (Iran! Syria! Cuba! Canada!), they can’t believe that their computers might get hacked by hackers. I’ve had to come back to this again and again and again.

The problem is, of course, that it involves believing that the little people have agency, intelligence, and skill. Here’s some evidence from F-Secure; the malware used in the Tibetan spying operation is maintained by a group of hackers and is openly on sale (and some people say it’s Swedish – didn’t I tell you we can’t trust those terrible Vikings?). Accepting that is an important political act, and it is absolutely necessary, both for effective security and in general to move beyond fear.

(Update: China Mobile isn’t worried and trusts the French. And there is a metal band called Beyond Fear, which is almost as cool as Bruce Schneier.)

Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads has a hell of a story. Now, I’ve not always been totally convinced by Tim; he spends an inordinate amount of time pursuing minor politicos for breaches of netiquette I think I’d just forget. But two of the crucial principles of journalism can be summed up as the clam ethic – once you get hold of a story, clamp down and never let go – and the Take That principle – never forget. They always want you to forget.

So, the Sun ran a patently ridiculous story that jihadis on the interwebs were threatening Alan Sugar. Apparently they imagined that he had to be in the story because otherwise the public wouldn’t grip it; I would have thought that a nontrivial percentage of the population would have been delighted. Hey, I grew up with an Amstrad PCW. But the Sugar element was the crucial break point, because it was this bit that was reliant on their source, who turned out to be a self-made spy called Glen Jenvey, who turns up all over the place in moderately well-funded “anti-terrorist” astroturf exercises.

And so on, and so on, until he demonstrated that Jenvey was a) the author of the threats, not just a reporter on them, b) using Patrick Mercer MP (for it is he) to lend weight to his nonsense, and the British Ambassador to Afghanistan’s brother too, and c) the sort of shameful arse who throws around accusations of paedophilia. Richard Bartholomew has been doing good work on this too.

It’s a very good question just how many terrorism stories (especially ones that have the “Internet” flag set – it means “stuff I don’t understand” to a lot of editors) are the work of these people, whether the upscale, Decent version or Jenvey’s Comedy Gladio.

More information is becoming available about the Christopher Hitchens brawl. It appears to have been a telling moment in Decency. The crucial detail is that Hitchens didn’t just deface any old SSNP artefact – he scrawled on the monument to the first shots fired in resistance to the Israeli occupation of 1982. Now, I’m sure the Syrian Social Nationalist Party – funny name, funny guys – are far from ideal. Funny swastikoid logoware, want to annex Cyprus, you get the picture.

But it’s hugely telling that Hitchens’ squiffy decision to take The Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Times outside resulted in him doing three things – thinking he was fighting fascists, while in reality he was taking the side of Ariel Sharon, with the upshot that he got a kicking about which he could moan in a publicity-generating manner.

This is, after all, precisely the pattern of his career since the neoconservative turn in about 1998; protesting bitterly that he is on the Left, while mocking and demonising anyone who didn’t agree with the most aggressive hard-right US Republicans and Likudniks, and using the outrage and betrayal that resulted to prove his commitment to his new mates. Up on the Hill, they think I’m OK…they just don’t say, and it is in the nature of being the pet defector that you’ve always got to go further than the others to maintain your position. Hence things like his bizarre appearance on Newsnight to claim that the victims of Hurricane Katrina weren’t Americans.

Down at the tactical level of debate, it’s notable that he spent so much time between 1998-2005 strawmanning the opinions of various deranged groupuscules onto the great majority of British voters; someone like the SSNP, or George Galloway, has always been necessary for successful Decency.

The unconscious speaks. Considering the whole affair as a weird kind of liberal-hawk psychodrama, it’s significant that Hitchens took his stew of unresolved inner conflicts to Beirut, city of unresolved conflicts par excellence and a taste for high living. Both the SSNP brawl, and his self-administered waterboarding, can possibly be seen as a sort of ritual self purification through which he hopes to return to the Left (a Lacanian would call it the Father’s Law), now that gonzo-reporting CPAC has become something for the mainstream rather than a move reserved for Sadly, No!.

Look what the Ministry found. Remember the business with Harrow Borough Council and the secret Israeli lie detector? We noted that it was unlikely that the signal it claimed to detect would be transmitted through the telephone system; an expert pointed out that it might be manifested in other ways; eventually we obtained a copy of the patent including a reference implementation in MS Visual Basic, and discovered that even if this was so, that wasn’t what it did.

In fact, it did very little of any use, and the actual content of the code directly contradicted Nemesysco’s claims regarding the system. For example, far from measuring 129 different parameters, it measures two, and claims to derive information on no less than eight different scales from these. And the actual judgment of truth or falsehood is based on entirely arbitrary reference values.

Swinging from tragedy to comedy, someone who was almost certainly Nemesysco founder Amir Liberman was then sighted sock-puppeting in the comments, and further inquiries showed probably the same person spamming Wikipedia. Very funny. Anyway, the Ministry has found an article from the International Journal of Speech Science and Law i which a pair of Swedish academics scrutinise the claims of some supposed lie detectors, Nemesysco’s among them. You can read it here. Here are some highlights:

The author describes the program as ‘detecting emotional status of an individual based on the intonation information’. But whereas intonation in phonetics means variation in pitch encoded by fundamental frequency (albeit almost always accompanied by other prosodic factors) the author of the LVA mistakenly believes that what he calls ‘thorns’ and ‘plateaus’ represent intonation..

Don’t get scratched by them thorns.

When an analog signal is digitized the complex continuous variation found in the original signal is replaced by a simplified discrete representation. How closely this representation matches the original depends on the sampling parameters but the match will never be perfect. It is in the digitization process that the ‘thorns’ and ‘plateaus’ are created. There is obviously an indirect relationship between thorns and plateaus and the original waveform, but the number of thorns and plateaus, which is the very basis for all computations in the LVA, depends crucially on sampling rate, amplitude resolution and the threshold values defined in the program. It is therefore correct to say that these computations are basically no more than statistics based on digitization artefacts.

And that is all there is. There is nothing special with these computations, except that there is no theoretical basis for them or independent motivation for the proposed ranges… The program would analyze any sound the same way, be it a man speaking, an idling car engine, a dog barking or a tram passing by. Secondly, the number and distribution of thorns and plateaus depend crucially on a number of factors that have to
do with how the digitization is performed. Different sampling frequencies and amplitude resolutions would produce different results.

the code is rather messy and not particularly well structured and we decided it would not be worth the time and effort to clean up the code in order to convert it into a running program. The Damphouse et al. group report that the program crashed repeatedly during their experiments so it is obviously rather unstable too

Ouch. But it gets worse.

The performance of LVA on the VSA database … was similar to that observed with CVSA. That is, neither device showed significant sensitivity to the presence of stress or deception in the speech samples tested. The true positive and false positive rates were parallel to a great extent.

That is to say, the results were entirely down to chance. And finally….

The output of an analysis is structured much along the same lines as horoscopes…To sum up by saying that there is absolutely no scientific basis for the claims
made by the LVA proponents is an understatement. The ideas on which the products are based are simply complete nonsense

Just for good measure, it seems that Liberman promoted himself as a significant Israeli mathematician whilst trying to sell the program in Sweden; it turns out he is no mathematician of any kind. However, he did know just what to do; sue the International Journal, which took the article off line. So much for that. Now for the DWP.

The Grauniad asked 21 of its opinion writers to make predictions for 2009. As a service, and to force Daniel Davies’ hand into starting his planned Predictions-L mailing list, I’ve shorterised each one and reflected briefly on it. The full texts are here.

1) Jackie Ashley thinks the Lib Dems may be powerbrokers in a hung parliament.

Comment: not so much a prediction as a statement that the polls currently look like that. But at least it’s based on data.

2) Michael Tomasky thinks e-books will be a major hit, but nobody wants to read 80,000 words cos of wikipedia and google an stuff.

Comment: This is one of those issues that kills forecasters. The dawn of e-books has been repeatedly predicted and repredicted without happening. Tomasky makes the good point that the Amazon Kindle is selling well…but then his New Yorker/smartass kulturpessimismus conwis kicks in and he ends up predicting that e-books will sell hugely but nobody will buy them. Quack, quack, oops.

3) Gary Younge thinks industrial relations in the US will be troubled as the recession takes hold.

Comment: Fair enough.

4) Oh Jesus, here we go. Madeleine Bunting thinks the recession will teach us all a lesson about the Virtues of Thrift.

Comment: Mr Keynes, call your office. More specifically, this is so woolly that it’s impossible to think of criteria that would let us determine the success or failure of the prediction. In fact, she explictly backs out of it by suggesting there will be a “confusion of values”. Yellow.

5) Peter Preston thinks we will see better satire on TV, and a UK network will recruit John Oliver from the Daily Show.

Comment: Is/Ought confusion – not clear whether Preston thinks this *will* happen or whether he’s hoping to encourage it. Hard to define “better”, but if better satire on TV does happen there will probably be a degree of consensus that it has happened.

6) George Monbiot thinks some mate of his will have a big success with this fillum they made.

Comment: Well, it’ll be either a hit or a turkey. Nobody knows anything (and the kid stays in the picture). It’s a prediction, even if the film about climate change is characterised by “a Nigerian fisherwoman who has to wash her catch with Omo”; climate change does not cause oil spills, nor vice versa. Not in Nigeria, at least. I know about that pipeline in Alaska.

7) Polly Toynbee thinks environmental issues will lose salience unless there’s a major disaster.

Comment: There’s a bit of hedge in how you define “the agenda” here, but it’s fair enough. And she’s based it on data. Tim Worstall probably already has accused her of hoping for the flooding of New York City, and is now probably guiltily masturbating over her byline photo. And that’s a prediction!

8 ) Jonathan Freedland thinks there could be a hung parliament, and a Lib-Lab coalition, or maybe a Lib-Con coalition. Or it might not happen.

Comment: Coward – three mutually exclusive predictions in one.

9) Simon Jenkins thinks genetic and embryological research will conquer disease. Seriously.

Comment: I am not joking. Perhaps a drop too much of the Old Tory’s Arse 76-year old malt this Christmas. But we could treat this as a forecast that there will be at least one major medical achievement in this line in 2009, and that way it is fair enough.

10) John Harris thinks there will or should be a national debate that’s something to do with sub-post offices.

Comment: Jesus wept, what a bunch of wank. I remember when he was good; he was especially good mocking the Big Conversation, strange to relate. This sounds like his balls just dropped off. Absolutely no testable claims. FAIL.

11) Jonathan Steele thinks Russian influence will increase in Georgia and the Ukraine. And there will probably be a change of government in Thailand, but it won’t matter.

Comment: I was tempted to say Jonathan Steele thinks…whatever the Russians tell him to. Note that back in 2004 he thought the Ukrainian revolution was an evil fascist plot because Yulia Timoshenko made a pile in the gas business. Now she’s “a figure to watch in 2009, a controversial and vastly rich entrepreneur who takes a more respectful line towards Moscow”. Prediction: Steele will continue to follow the Party line and will continue to be invited on all-expenses trips to Moscow (indispensable pdf). And he’s hedging about Thailand like Capability Brown with a Black & Decker and a liberal dose of amphetamine sulphate. However, at least he made a testable prediction.

12) Jenni Russell thinks there may be something wrong with race relations in South Africa.

Comment: No shit, Sherlock.

13) Hugh Muir thinks various European politicians will do something or maybe not, and some UKIP MEPs may be re-elected. Or then again they may not. Who knows?

Comment: Hugh Muir may make a testable prediction he could be held responsible for. Or perhaps he won’t.

14) Tim Garton Ash thinks there will be a youth protest wave, driven by graduate unemployment.

Comment: A testable, nonobvious prediction based on a quantitative model. Score one for Agent Romeo.

15) Julian Glover thinks “the age of depoliticised power will come to an end”.

Comment: I think he means things like independent central banks. It’s not at all clear though. Still, chalk it up; if the ECB gives up monetarism by December, he’s right.

16) Libby Brooks thinks “the gardener who knows how to grow their own carrots” will be valued more than a hedge fund manager, and the success of Mamma Mia! is an example of a profound change in our views of status.

Comment: I think there is more than a little contradiction here, and not just because nobody ever liked hedgies anyway. Again, vague puffology about abstract nouns.

17) Seamus Milne thinks the “the neoliberal model is collapsing around our ears, but what is going to replace it is still up for grabs”.

Comment: Not a prediction, and unfalsifiable. If you read on, it turns out the old tankie really means “maybe this crisis is the one! world revolution is here!” but he’s wily enough to realise everyone will laugh if he says that.

18) Mark Lawson thinks William Golding’s books will come back into fashion.

Comment: God, I hope not. But at least it’s a prediction.

19) Scraping the barrel. Zoe Williams thinks that the idea of prime-time TV is obsolete, and that TV will be dominated by crowd-pleasing repeats.

Comment: Slightly contradictory. And whingeing about repeats? Radical.

20) Martin Kettle, for it is he, thinks the extreme Right in Europe will win more seats at the European Parliamentary elections. He doesn’t think this means a third world war is imminent, but he does not have “high confidence” of this.

Comment: Kettle, Kettle. The boy’s so prone, Ron. Trust him to make a fool of himself. I would think anything less than very high confidence that the radical right will not start a world war from Europe would be front-page news, but he actually buries this behind the shattering suggestion that the BNP might pick up an MEP or two.

Of course, that’s actually quite unlikely because the method of election favours parties with a small but widespread support base like the Greens, rather than ones with sporadic, concentrated support like the BNP.

21) Marina Hyde thinks the Russian state will continue to take control over more of the Russian economy, but will re-privatise in the future, only to re-expropriate a new set of temporary oligarchs when the next crisis arrives. And the Government will fail to get newly state-owned bank branches to open on Saturday mornings.

Comment: That’s actually a very good point. Two very good points, in fact. We have a winner!