An Irish Farmer has an accident

An Irish farmer had a terrible traffic accident. When the case got to court the lorry owners’ lawyer said, “Didn’t you say to the police at the scene of the accident that you were ‘fine’?”

He replied, “Well, I tell you what happened. I’d just loaded my favourite cow, Bessie, onto the…”

I didn’t ask for details. Just answer the question. Did you say, at the scene of the accident, ‘I’m fine’?”

Well I’d just got Bessie into the trailer and was driving down the road…”

The solicitor interrupted again, “Your Honour, I’m just trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the police that he was fine. Now several weeks later he’s trying to sue my client. I believe that he’s a fraud.”

The Judge though was interested in the farmers persistence and said that he wanted to hear the story to see if it was relevant.

Well as I was saying I was driving down the road when this huge lorry hit me. I was thrown into a ditch and I was hurt really bad. Bessie was hurt really bad and she was moaning something terrible. Up comes a policeman, on his motorcycle, takes one look at Bessie and shoots her. Then he comes across to me and asked me how do I feel. I took one look at his gun and said, ‘I’m fine’?”


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Spotify quantifies the Top Beatles Album

What’s the best Beatles album?  This is a question any self-respecting fan wrestles with on a regular basis.  What criteria do we use to decide?  Level of experimentation and growth?  What we revisit the most?  The album with the most songs you force your family and friends to listen to?  Well, even if you are still unsure for yourself, the people have voted…and Abbey Road blows them all away.  The album has an average of 34M listens per track, more than 50% higher than the next closest two albums, Let It Be and Magical Mystery Tour, with about 20M listens per track each. This article is worth chasing up it’s consistently surprising.


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Malcolm X’s wisdom

Fake news as an act of oppression


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Book review: Annie Duke ~ Thinking in Bets (2019)

Gambling fascinates me and I like stories associated with gamblers. Kerry Packer is an endless source of pleasure for me. He was famously irritated by a braggart in a Las Vegas casino who wanted everyone to know he had a $100m. Packer interrupted him by offering to toss a coin for a $100m! And he meant it.1

Annie Duke isn’t telling that sort of story. She’s written a book about ‘decision-making under conditions of uncertainty’, which is a version of Kahnemann and Tversky’s Judgement under uncertainty. Annie’s insight is to assert that all decisions are improved when there is money involved. It focuses the mind as it were. The taunt, ‘Put your money where your mouth is’, is very effective in drawing an argument to a close.

Her book is a discussion of improving decision-making. As we are all in love with ourselves and especially our beliefs we should actively seek out those that have an opposing viewpoint. We should test the robustness of our opinions by having them constructively criticised. This is clean opposite to what actually happens and especially in business. Businesses have hierarchies which hold sway in decision making. A junior member of staff contradicting a CEO has to be either very brave or a maverick.

Yet Annie’s insight is compelling. Life in a bracing intellectual atmosphere is more productive. Her background is as a professional poker player where decision making is more-or-less instantaneous. Unmediated biases or intuitions are hopeless in poker only a refined skilled set will suffice. And the way to get this is to subject yourself to on-going critical analysis, which takes tremendous powers of confidence. Doable, worth doing but can you?



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Unforeseen consequences

“Rodney,” Tom said, “Becky and I are getting a divorce.”

I was stunned. “Why? You seemed so happy together.”

“Well, ever since we married, Becky’s been improving me. She got me to stop drinking, smoking and gambling. She taught me to dress well, enjoy the fine arts, gourmet cooking, classical music and how to be a successful investor.”

“Are you a bitter because she’s changed you?”

“No. I just don’t think she’s good enough for me.”


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Workhouses and the Poor from 1834

..the able-bodied recipient of poor relief “on the whole shall not be made really or apparently as eligible as the independent labourer of the lowest class.”1


There’s nothing worse than paying tax and being taken for a ride. The genius of the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834, was deleting judgement from the provision of relief. Receiving relief was an entitlement where people presented themselves to the workhouse and entered. The Poor Law ‘less eligibility’ clause meant their ‘choice’ was between the workhouse and dying: they were destitute. Although workhouses shared many features with prisons – gruelling work, family separation, oppressive in-house rules and loss of freedom [see addendum] – they were a vital safety net, a welfare system.

The New Poor Law, 18341

The New Poor Law was predicated on workhouses and the principle of ‘less eligibility’. Less eligibility meant physical discomfort and psychological pain. Families were broken up, creating a hostile psychological environment replicating imprisonment. Only the context of the work was different to that undertaken in prison. This was seized on by critics who condemned criminalisation of poverty, giving the nickname Bastilles2 to workhouses.

Despite the atrocious reputation of workhouses, they fulfilled their principal role. British people didn’t starve in ditches. Welfare was uniform across the country, which prevented wide disparity of provision from area to area. Relief was precisely targeted at those needing it most because everyone in a workhouse was self-selected. Taxpayers got a good deal. There was no possibility of fraud or gaming the system as workhouses were uniform across the country.3 Freedom of action for the Boards of Guardians was severely limited.

The Outcome

Despite the uniform system across the country, there were variations. Some workhouses were brutal whilst others were subject to corruption and there was unease about the criminalisation of the poor. Unfortunately, handing the most vulnerable people in society over to people who’d been told, but probably hadn’t understood ‘less eligibility’, meant that there was a great deal of gratuitous authoritarianism.

A poor diet, harsh living conditions and heavy physical work done in silence ground down the spirit of inmates in the workhouse. When an inmate was obviously a victim of circumstance this aroused a lot of public sympathy. Brilliant novelists like Charles Dickens and investigatory journalists worked hard to discover and publicise scandals.4

Regardless of the obvious and glaring faults, the Poor Law Amendment Act wasn’t fully replaced until 1949. Long before then most of the worst features had disappeared in the reconfiguring of society in the cauldron of the First World War, which created a new concept of citizenship. The Great Depression of the 1930s destroyed what was left of the administration of the Poor Law. ‘Less eligibility’ was an elegant solution to the perennial challenge of combatting fraud in the welfare system. Like all such ‘solutions’ it only partially worked and the question remains: is it possible to get a good deal for taxpayers and the poor?


Oliver Twist asking for more

Working in silence

Cleaning rope by hand in 1909

The full poem is in the notes

1 see also

2 This is the parliamentary debate much of which is hostile.

A quick summary is here

3 This excellent blog gives a short but very good insight in to the actuality of the administration of local workhouses. NB This was Tony Blair’s seat for 20+ years from the 1980s

4 Andover scandal is the best documented see

You might want to read this poem about Christmas Day in the workhouse it’s very readable and worthwhile.

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Odeboyz celebrates the end of austerity

I’m really looking forward to 2020


Chris and Mike

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