Benefits fantasies, pippins fit for a prince, honest reading, and a tip

IDS has been trying to justify welfare cuts, Prince George has been given an apple tree and many staff are on zero-hours contracts at Amazon...


This weekend seems as good a time as any to discuss the idea that ice-cream consumption causes shark attacks: the concept commonly used to demonstrate the fallacy "post hoc ergo propter hoc", or "after this therefore because of this". Ice cream sales rise in hot weather. So too do shark attacks. But to see a causal link is plainly ridiculous. There is a correlation, but no causation. I mention this to show why politicians are taking all the wrong precautions against British people being eaten by sharks. Such as the attempt to make children happier by offering couples £150 tax breaks to get married.

This clash of real facts and bizarre decisions reaches an embarrassing nadir whenever Iain Duncan Smith tries to justify cuts to welfare. Confronted by evidence, IDS keeps hitting back with his opinion. He "believes" that there is plenty of affordable housing in London, he says. He "believes" that benefit caps cause jobs to exist. He probably believes that the scent of a Mr Whippy enrages sharks.

All the evidence compiled by statisticians in his own department says he is wrong about benefit caps, and the facts reported by The Independent last week show that he's wrong about the "bedroom tax" too, but Mr Duncan Smith sticks rigidly to his beliefs. The problem is, belief doesn't make employment and housing exist any more than it stops a fairy dying, and it's about time the Government grew up and learnt to tell evidence from utter baloney.

A recent survey showed that public opinion is almost as out of kilter with the facts as IDS is. Among the examples: the public think that £24 of every £100 of benefits is fraudulently claimed. The real figure is 70p in every £100. Then, 29 per cent of people think that more is spent on Job Seekers' Allowance than on pensions. In fact, pensions cost 15 times more.

My hypothesis is that persuading the public to hold false beliefs enables governments to get away with cruelly targeting the poor. My conclusion is that we should feed IDS an enormous ice cream and tell him to go and play near deep water.

Gifts for George

Just as they did at their wedding in 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have asked for donations to charity instead of gifts for baby George. Just as at their wedding, some people have decided to give gifts anyway. In 2011 the happy couple received, among other things, a 10-kilo Welsh crystal vase engraved with daffodils from "the people of Wales", which they will presumably have to display prominently any time anyone Welsh comes round. (And you thought that three identical bread-makers were annoying.) Now, all three main party leaders have ignored the royal wishes regarding gifts for the baby.

First, Nick Clegg announced that he had bought the new royal a cot cover and sheet embroidered by Spanish nuns. You can just imagine Cameron and Miliband kicking themselves when they heard the news. Miliband then announced that he had sent the baby a three-year-old apple tree sourced from local community groups. I suppose the duke and duchess at least have gardens to put it in. Presumably, Cameron had taken the parents at their word and not bought anything, which might explain how he ended up hastily sending a collection of books by Roald Dahl. It's a nice thought, but poor George is only 13 days old. Still, at least Cameron's gift was more thoughtful than the one that arrived from Australia's northern territory: a live baby crocodile named George. It's to be hoped that crocodiles like apples.

How to stay in my good books

Reasons to hate Amazon #493: a Channel 4 investigation has revealed that many of the company's staff are employed on zero-hours contracts, are tagged with GPS, have to walk up to 15 miles a day, and have just 30 minutes' break in a 10-hour shift during which they may have to hike the length of nine football pitches to get to the canteen. Oh, and their toilet breaks are monitored and timed.

Nonetheless, Amazon is not always the cheapest place to buy a book, as shows. Nor is it the nicest. As readers of The Independent on Sunday, you love your local independent bookshop, right? Well good, because from now on nobody is allowed to say that they love books and bookshops until they delete their Amazon account and go out and pay for a real live book in a real live bookshop the next time they want something to read, according to a new rule made up by me.

Getting the fourth degree

Meanwhile, in better books news, "the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done" has pushed a book about Jesus by a scholar-who-just-happens-to-be-a-Muslim to number one in the bestseller charts. It turns out that there was a point to Reza Aslan repeatedly explaining to the very confused interviewer about his four degrees, PhD in the history of religions, fluency in biblical Greek and 20 years of academic study. His book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth can be bought in all good bookshops.

Keep your tiger dry

It only remains for me, as a literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, to pass on some professional advice about life and art. As the fire brigade blames a sudden spike in handcuff-related callouts on the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, I would like to warn readers: don't practise the perfect murder, don't keep your mad wife in an attic, don't cross the Atlantic with a Bengal tiger, and if you do wake up to find that you have turned into an insect, don't have an existential crisis.

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