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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Daily Diary: Toffs, Toughs, and Taxes

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I start the day reading Ian Jack's article on the photograph that defined the class divide. It depicts two coat-tailed Harrow "toffs," waiting outside the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match, and three somewhat Dickensian "toughs," looking resentfully on. The photograph is a symbolic snapshot of a class divide, which explains why it has a long heritage of reuse across the press, as Jack details. However, chasing the history of the five boys, it appears that it was not entirely candid. Jack adds that "As a way of describing the boys themselves – their circumstances and position in the hierarchy – it was also remarkably untrue." The boys were not entirely the true urchins that they were labelled as. Ultimately, there is something optimistic about the subsequent narrative, which turns on the second world war and sees the boys we might like to patronise emerging as respectable businessmen and civil servants.

The Budget
Over lunch, I tune in to the Chancellor's pre-election budget. As usual with budgets, most of the measures have already been well-trailed, though there is a clever political twist in there, as not only does he abolish stamp duty for some first time buyers, he pays for this by increasing it for those buying homes over £1 million. This puts some water between Labour and the Conservatives, nudging the former slightly back to the left and exposing the latter as more right-wing than they might appear. The irony is that the Conservatives proposed the abolition of stamp duty a couple of years ago; but what Darling's move does is to show their plan as a populist measure, whilst his is an actual redistribution of wealth from rich to poor.

The budget even has some humour in it, with Darling displaying perfect comic timing in his stand-up routine. He announces a crackdown on offshore tax havens - cue loud jeers from Labour, gesturing towards the Tories and the slippery Lord Ashcroft, lordly taxpayer of Belize and Lordly non-taxpaying Conservative deputy chairman. Then he announces three specific tax evasion agreements with Dominica (cue more jeers), Grenada (cue a Tory squirm of anticipation) and...yes...Belize (cue eruptions and gesticulations on both sides). Mr. Darling, keeping his cool, clearly dreamt up his next line in a moment of (for him) inspiration: "We expect these deals to be signed within a few days, which is rather quicker than the ten years it's taken the front bench opposite to exchange information with the deputy chairman of their party."

Aside from my own chuckle over cheese on toast, the budget has little of note for me. He announces more funding for universities to improve their knowledge transfer, and to provide more places for students in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. Which merely continues a New Labour trend of ignoring anything that can't be quantified, tabulated, banked and taxed. Such as my own subject. But hey, I'll still not be voting for the boys in blue. They would do anything but rescue the humanities.

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