5 things about this week (18 Aug 2018)

by Stephen Tall on August 18, 2018

I came across the origin of the ‘disposition effect’ this week, via Matthew Syed’s Times column about financial trader-turned new Chelsea coach, Maurizio Sarri.

The term was coined by a behavioural finance academic, Terrance Odean, who observed ‘the tendency of investors to hold losing investments too long and sell winning investments too soon’. Here’s Syed’s explanation for the phenomenon:

Why does it exist? The reason is largely due to ego. When we have taken a public position, it is difficult to accept that we might have been wrong. This is why traders hold on to their bad investments, desperately hoping they will rebound. But this bias exerts a cost. It means that traders are throwing good money after bad.

Which, I think, goes some way to explaining (in chronological order of catastrophe) Corbyn, Brexit and Trump, each of whose leading supporters are doubling down on their political investment: to sell out now would be to turn themselves into, well, sell outs.

Corbyn is the one which troubles me most and I’ll tell you why. I know almost no-one who admits to having voted for the mounting disaster that is Brexit — of the seven places I’ve lived and worked, all voted to Remain — so I don’t have to keep on having the arguments about why it’s a bonkers decision.

I don’t know that many Corbyn supporters either; but I do know plenty of tribally loyal Labourites. Decent, well-intentioned people I often agree with on a range of issues. And they know that all their work for their party is edging Corbyn closer to Downing Street.

They all agree that’s a terrifying thought: making Prime Minister a man who stopped thinking in 1983 and embraces any individuals who have proven their anti-western credentials, however violently. Yet they can’t stop themselves. They are holding on to their bad investment in the Labour party, desperately hoping it will rebound sans Corbyn.

Perhaps time will show them to be right in holding out, playing the long game. Perhaps. But count the cost. Just count the cost.

**

I’m not one to join the chorus of BBC-bashing you hear with tedious regularity from the conservative right, and now increasingly virulently from the liberal-left. Sure, the Corporation has made mis-steps, most notably the false equivalence afforded to climate scientists and uncredentialled climate change-deniers. But the frothing accusations, animated by an unattractive victimhood, are rarely in proportion to the Beeb’s offences.

Still, I do find some of the BBC news coverage frustrating. So I’m heartened to see its new editorial director, Kamal Ahmed, admit that:

“… we have some structures in the BBC and ways of doing news which are challenged in this new environment we are in and I think in particular of what is called the ‘disco’, a discussion between two opposing sides about one issue. In a polarised world and a world of such passions we should think more often about whether that is the most illuminating way of explaining.”

I don’t know whether he had BBC2’s Newsnight in mind, but it’s immediately what I thought of. Because it’s a programme which feels like it should be essential viewing given the political tumult of the times we’re living through; but (with exceptions like its star public policy reporter, Chris Cook) it’s rarely appointment TV. Too often, it’s yet another pointless ‘disco’ featuring pundits arguing the toss.

Yet there must surely be space for 45 minutes a night of intelligent news coverage. A telly equivalent of the Economist or Prospect. A midpoint between News at Ten and Panorama. Here are a handful of ideas for regular 15 mins segments:

  • ‘Everything you need to know about…’ – eg, what would be the effect of a Brexit on WTO terms? (Cf Radio 4’s The Briefing Room)
  • Behind the headlines – a focus on how the media has covered that week’s big story: what they got right, what they distorted, why they chose the angle they did
  • ‘I can’t believe it’s not Brexit’ – in-depth focus on a vital area of public policy streamed across a week – eg, our failing transport system or prisons (okay, I part-ripped this idea off the New Statesman podcast, but that’s because it’s a good and necessary antidote to Brexit fatigue)
  • anonymised focus groups to get an unprompted insight into regular voters’ views – combined with insightful data analysis of issue-specific polling
  • the BBC reality check on an issue as voted for by viewers
  • ‘In conversation with’ interviews with academics and other experts about what they see as the big issues which don’t make the news because they’re not ‘newsy’

Newsnight was created before 24-hour rolling news and social media. The days when its hard-hitting interviews with top politicians could set the agenda are gone. This gives it the space and time to reimagine what a programme motivated by curiosity about current affairs and modern life can be. It should grab the opportunity.

**

Part of my motivation for re-starting my blog this summer was to talk about issues which don’t seem to be well-suited to shouty social media — including my ‘gender critical’ feminist take on trans issues.

This week, I came across an article, by Jonathan Best, which brilliantly articulates, sensitively and reasonably, the concerns many of us have that the different lived experiences of trans women and natal-born women, and the different types of discrimination they face, are being erased by some trans activists, and that the debate about this which needs to happen is being shut down. Here’s his conclusion:

I think this is the challenge facing us all: to advance trans rights and liberation without compromising natal women’s sex-based rights and protections. This must be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect in which anyone is free to critically discuss anything they wish, using whatever (respectful) terminology they choose. The underlying issues of sex and gender must be seen for what they are: nobody’s exclusive property. We are a long, long way from this ideal state of affairs.

Ain’t that the truth.

**

Here are three cultural highlights from my week:

  • I started watching Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and why has nobody previously told me how brilliant it is and how I would absolutely love it right from the off? It is quite simply brilliant and I love Rachel Brosnahan in it. Did I mention it’s brilliant and I love it?
  • I finished listening to Anthony Horowitz’s The Word is Murder, his latest meta-detective story, in which he autobiographically stars as a Dr Watson-cum-Captain Hastings assistant to the flawed, misanthropic but brilliant (I really do need a thesaurus) un-PC, former PC-turned-consultant, Daniel Hawthorne. For me, Horowitz will always be a genius for creating the classiest of all TV detective series, Foyle’s War. I loved his previous book-within-a-book crime novel, Magpie Murders. This one doesn’t quite hit those heights (the ending is more whimper than bang) but it’s still a great summer read.
  • I visited Tate Britain’s All Too Human exhibition, ‘capturing the sensuous, immediate and intense experience of life in paint’. I work right next door and am a Tate member, yet seem to frequent the cafe more than the galleries. I’ve been determined to put that right and I’m glad I made a start this week in awakening my artistic hinterland — even if I did have to suppress an instinct to shout ‘Mornington Crescent‘ when I saw Frank Auerbach’s paintings.

**

This fella started at nursery this week. He feels so little to be leaving him so young (10 months); yet he’s settling well, enjoying new friendships, and loving the new experiences — this week, exploring herbs frozen in ice, for example (see photo). Play group was nothing like that in my day…

We know many of his ‘firsts’ will happen without us being present. That said, having spent months trying to get him to clap, it was a bit galling to find out he’d done it on only his second day there. He may be small, but he’s already perfected the art of trolling.

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