Lying with passion

The US vice-presidential debate, the ups and downs of Michael Gove plus all the rest of the news and

Ready to Gove-ern

“It’s not the same as the old days,” a moustachioed conference attendee adjudged. “The atmosphere in ’81, when Heath launched into Thatcher from the platform – that was electric. It’s not like that now.” Indeed it is not. Unity and suppressed smirks (grinning excessively when the markets are in freefall is indecent) were the order of the day at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

At a fringe arranged by The Times, Michael Gove compared himself to Trinny and Susannah and spoke of the necessity of the Tory makeover. Of ‘10 Days to Save the Pound’ T-shirts and anti-immigration badges, he joked “let me tell you darling, you’re sending out the wrong vibes”.

Gove, who one Labour supporter this week assured me is a “genius,” was causing a frisson among bloggers too, and not because of his sleeping arrangements when at university. The eloquent Graeme Archer noted Gove’s contribution to the Guardian’s “Tory hero” fringe , in which he put the case for Edmund Burke. He “…deserves a distinguished merit award for services to oratory, as he managed to put the case for Burke without once using the phrase 'Little Platoons,'” Archer opined.

Joining Gove on the wrong end of a Mail exposé was the former Conservative Future chairman and now Tooting candidate, Mark Clarke - a man who provokes strong reactions. Leading Tory blogger Dizzy allowed himself a moment of schadenfreude:

“What can I say, being turned over in the Sundays couldn't have happened to a nicer person. I am truly gutted for Mark who once displayed the most unbelievable arrogance and "up his own arse" attitude towards me and a couple of others.”

Long-time readers of Dizzy will recall that he has a history of animosity towards Clarke. Elsewhere, Chris Mounsey ventured that “…he will fit in nicely with all of the other hypocritical, deceitful bastards in the House of Commons”.

Conservative conference doesn’t have delegates, its members don’t vote on proposals from the leadership – they just applaud them. And so it was when Osborne wowed the party with his council tax freeze plans. The ThunderDragon wrote:

“It puts control in the hands of local councils who can decide whether or not they will choose to take part. If they make the wrong choice, they will face the wrath of their electorate when they next get a chance to vote.”

Others, like The Right Student were more equivocal:

“I do have a concern, however. It is all well and good to freeze Council Tax for two years, but what happens then? Do we go back to inflation busting rises?”

Hopi Sen questioned how it would impact on Boris’ plans for London.

Finally, the Conservative party itself has tried to get it on the citizen journalism revolution by launching its own Blue Blog. Move along, nothing to see here.

What have we learned this week?

In the week that Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr the Brass Crescent Awards open nominations to find the best Muslim bloggers. Last year’s winner, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, also writes on faith and politics at Comment is Free. Eid Mubarak to all Muslim bloggers, and to the Jewish blogosphere - Shana tova u'metukah.

Across the Pond

After a string of hopeless media performances, many anticipated that Sarah Palin would sink McCain’s hope in yesterday’s vice presidential debate. But Clive Crook felt that, though she lost, Palin made a decent fist of her tussle with Biden:

“Whatever the reason--her sense of occasion, a change of coaching staff, who knows?--she did well enough tonight to lift the campaign's head back above water.”

Predictably, Democrat bloggers universally gave the debate to Biden. Republicans were more mixed – with Mark Levin on the right-wing NationalReview opting to instead go after her opponent:

“…Biden’s “gravitas” is derived almost entirely from the fact that he can lie with absolute passion and conviction,” he claimed.

Videos of the Week

“Our house, didn't work out like we planned/ Our house, price has dropped by fifty grand,” the Spitting Image crew sang during the 1989 house price crash. If only satire was up to that today.

Quote of the Week

“It is instructive that today we also face many of the problems we faced in the months leading up to Thatcher's 1979 election victory.”

Tony Sharp enthusiastically buys into the wildly popular new Cameron/Thatcher narrative.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.