Cummings and ghostings: Who wrote Dom’s statement?

Introduction: if love is a battlefield, politics is a bonfire

As the Dominic Cummings v Boris Johnson battle rages across the headlines, it caught my eye that two high profile figures have both noted similar, rather interesting points. The first figure was Robert Hutton, who, at 3:03pm on the 23rd of April 2012 (three days ago as I write this) tweeted:

“Look, the point of getting journalists to attribute a quote to “friends” or “allies” is that you have plausible deniability. There’s no point if the quote sounds so absolutely like you that it just looks like you always refer to yourself in the third person.”

He then includes a small screenshot that, judging by the style and font, looks like a quote from The Telegraph (but I can’t check to credit them properly because paywall 🤷‍♀️‍). The text of that is thus:

“Allies of Mr Cummings have hit back at Number 10 for starting “a war they can’t win”, adding: “Dom doesn’t care about all this stuff and they’re in gov. It’s like the Americans going into Vietnam – they may be able to drop big bombs but in a war of attrition, the rebel always wins.””

This first case is fun, and it would make a nice little study for uses such as gov (possibly some sort of written correspondence that’s been copied and pasted?) and the types of analogies that Cummings routinely makes (does he fall back on war examples a lot?), but realistically it’s a bit short so whilst tempting, I left it alone.

But then, just fifteen hours and 29 minutes later, at 6:32am on the 24th of April 2021, former Labour politician Alastair Campbell tweeted:

“Interesting change of style in Cummings’ latest blog. From long, rambling and incontinent, to rather tight and focused, as though he had the help of an experienced journalist who knew how to land more blows with fewer words. Anyone seen @michaelgove ?”

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Top of the populi: the most tweeted pictures, videos, links, issues, names, emoji, swearwords and more in GE19


It’s twenty four hours since the Conservatives won a remarkable majority in the 2019 General Election. There has already been an avalanche of nuanced (and not so nuanced) debate about quite whether Johnson won, or Corbyn lost, about whether Brexit is The Beginning or The End, and on, and on, and on.

This post is going to deal with exactly none of that stuff. If you want serious business, go stick your face in Politico or the FT. (I like the FT, by the way. This isn’t a dig at them.) If what you’d like right now is something lighter, but still surprisingly informative (er, maybe) then I present here a range of probably useless, but possibly interesting facts about twenty-four hours of Twitter data gathered during the final critical hours of the 2019 UK General Election. This blog post tells you all about the top devices, videos, pictures, links, names, places, issues, emotions, and swearwords, pretty much in that order, so if you came here for all the fucks, just scroll waaaaay down to the bottom. Similarly, if you want to just skip down to the start of the fun stuff, click here. Otherwise, if you appreciate a little data salad and caution sauce with your result reuben, then keep reading. Continue reading

Academia is a cake-eating contest, in which the prize for eating the most is… more cake

Oh the weather outside is dreary

And marking is making you weary

And you’ve got that draft to revise

And that grant! And reviews! And replies!

Something we talk a lot about in academia is work-life balance. We have committees on it. We hold meetings about it. I’ve seen workshops scheduled on it that ran from 2pm till 8pm with apparently no sense of irony. Everyone sings the same song, and yet, systematically, the attacks on our free time come from all sides. Most of us feel pushed into a 100% teaching/admin load, with another 33% on top for research during evenings and weekends. And most of us feel a sinking abyss of guilt when we say no to other people because our refusal seems, in the short-term, to leave them with even more to do, or to stem from us not doing our fair share.

This post is all about being selfish. It is about protecting your free time (whenever you decide to schedule that free time, morning, noon, night, I don’t care). It is about respecting and supporting your own physical and psychological well-being. And it is about stemming the infinite avalanche of crap that will otherwise continue to pour onto your desk and into your inbox.

This is a Five Step Plan to a Better You. It will give you shinier hair. Longer nails. Sparklier teeth. Smoother skin. More toes. Literally everything you ever wanted, except for all those things I just listed. But really, it should lead to a better you, because you will get the time you should have to be you, and do stuff that makes you you, and it will build in emotional and logistical reserves for the times when shit gets hyper-busy.

It will also, hopefully, help you to recognise your limits, and stop you from disappointing people in future by preventing you from saying, “Yes” to something that it will be virtually impossible for you to do.
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Post mortem: dissecting letters from experts

(Get it? POST mortem? Because it came by… po- never mind.)

This is the unexpected third part of what has turned into a disinformation trinity. I hadn’t expected the first part in late November (the Conservatives’ factcheckUK saga), I was marginally less surprised at the second instalment in early December (the three big parties’ “local newspapers”), and by this third volume, I have hit a wall of weary acceptance. A single instance can be discounted as anomalous, but three is a pattern. A tiresome, dangerous, corrosive pattern that suggests a much wider comfort with behaviours that the electorate find problematic than I, at least, had previously thought.

So what’s the story for this latest and (hopefully!) final chapter before the General Election strikes? Somewhere throughout November 2019, the Liberal Democrats started sending out letters. Here are two exemplars – one that is fairly representative of those distributed in England, and one that seems to be fairly representative of those sent in Scotland. Continue reading

The local news_apers: Tadmouth Gazette or Badmouth Gersatz?

As election season gets underway, more and more instances of disinformation and misinformation (just plain fake news if you’re feeling fed up) keep hitting the headlines. Stoned squirrels, dead cats, fake factcheckers, dodgy polls, it’s all happening right now. Disinformation is in the headlines, everywhere.

But there’s a catch with disinformation.

And headlines.

Sometimes, they’re the same thing.

In the past few weeks, people began to tweet about free local newspapers that were being posted through their doors. Luckily for me, plenty included photos, usually of the front page, pointing out that this apparently free journalistic offering was in actuality a political publication with a clear agenda to persuade voters to support particular candidates. More to the point, people were not happy. At the extreme, some felt that these were literal embodiments of disinformation and should be aggressively prosecuted. Still others felt that these were problematic, manipulative, and/or deceitful, but not unexpected. And at the other extreme, some people responded that these publications allegedly all disclose their true identities and agendas in various ways, so the responsibility is on the reader. (We’ll get into that more later.) Continue reading

The introvert academic’s alternative networking guide

If you want to dodge the preamble and get stuck straight into the nitty gritty, click here. It’ll jump you down past these opening paragraphs. Otherwise if you like a context starter with your main guidelines dish, keep reading.

Let’s start this simply. I am an entrenched introvert. On the scale, I would put myself at a cold, clear ten out of ten. I don’t merely find networking events and mid-conference coffee gatherings and social meet-and-eats uncomfortable. They set off all my anxiety klaxons and I invariably lose anywhere between 99% and all of my ability to function like a normal person. Appropriate topics of conversation? Let’s do serial killers of the 20th century. Normal methods of eating? I am going to tackle this sandwich with a knife and straw. Hot container of coffee? We should all bathe in it. Sometimes I can manage ten minutes. Sometimes I can even get to half an hour. And then, all at once, I’m done. The energy supply is depleted. It’s time to suddenly need to go to the toilet (i.e. escape) or go check with reception about some minor detail (i.e. e s c a p e) or discover that my train sets off soon (i.e. ! E ! S ! C ! A ! P ! E !). Continue reading

factcheckUK or fakecheckUK? Reinventing the political faction as the impartial factchecker

The evening of the 19th November 2019 saw the first of three Leaders’ Debates on ITV, starting at 8pm and lasting for an hour. Current Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives, Boris Johnson faced off against Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Plenty of people will have been watching the debate live, but a good proportion were “watching” (er, “twitching”?) via Twitter. This is something I’ve done in the past for certain shows. In some cases I just can’t watch or listen, but I can read, and in other cases, the commentary is far more interesting and entertaining than the show itself will ever be. This, for me, is just such a case. But very quickly, all eyes turned upon a modestly sized account with the handle @CCHQPress. That’s short for Conservative Campaign Headquarters Press. According to their (current!) Twitter bio, they are based in Westminster and they provide “snippets of news and commentary from CCHQ” to their 75k followers.

That is, until a few minutes into the debate. Continue reading

Casting pods and making waves: some insights into the world of making a podcast

The first thing I should write is, if you’re looking for good technical (i.e. computing, equipment, software) advice on setting up your podcast, then oh dear god, go somewhere else. This post is going to be about the lessons I have learned along the way whilst making en clair, and if any lesson has been felt most completely, it is that my knowledge of this field in general is paper thin. I’ll go through in a sort of generally chronological five-step how-to order since this tracks along with the way that my wisdom has deepened (ha!) with time, so let’s start with, well, starting… Continue reading

Silent screams: Barr’s summary of the Mueller report

The Special Counsel Investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election (sometimes nicknamed the Mueller Inquiry) officially began in May 2017, though the origins that led to its creation extend back at least as far as January 2017. As well as investigating Russian interference, the inquiry was also looking at obstruction of justice. The investigation came to an end not quite three days ago as I write this, when Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III submitted his final report to United States Attorney General William Barr. For those not familiar with the US legal system, the United States Attorney General (US AG for short) is the top lawyer dog in the US. This person heads up the US Department of Justice and this position is considered one of the Big Four, alongside the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Defense. Arguably, one of these four jobs is about as high as you can get without being the actual president. And no, I’m not forgetting about the vice president here, either. Continue reading

How to be a (recreational) forensic linguist

Yesterday (5 September 2018) the New York Times printed an op-ed by an anonymous source, entitled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration. [I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.]” Allegedly penned by a senior official in the Trump administration, possibly from within the White House itself, the piece outlines aspects of Trump’s behaviour in fairly unflattering terms, and describes some of the internal resistance being staged against him on a day-to-day basis.

Interestingly, rather than discredit the author’s proximity, the response from Trump a few hours later was to encourage the author to resign. This rather lent credibility to the piece’s authenticity and arguably made it even more damaging than it would have otherwise been had Trump simply laughed it off as a wild story by some fabulist that had never been within a mile of him. The result was that, overnight, a whole slew of people suddenly became forensic linguists specialising in authorship attribution. It’s been fun to watch and I’ve written this simple “how to be a forensic linguist” guide in response to the scramble to identify the author. Continue reading