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15 Jul 19:30

if you're wondering if i was pleased with the manner in which assassination was broken up into two bits in panel 5, here is your answer: yep

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June 14th, 2019: As someone who doesn't generally follow sports unless it's a big game let me be the first to say YAY RAPPIES ("Rappies" is what "Raptors" are called) (do NOT correct me on this PLEASE).

– Ryan

15 Jul 19:29

ironically writing this comic WAS a very productive hour for me, so things are looking up for ol' ryan

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June 19th, 2019: I'm back from Lethbridge! It was a great time AND I GOT TO JUDGE A COSPLAY CONTEST, an activity for which I was not especially qualified but for which I *was* especially enthusiastic.

– Ryan

05 Jul 00:45

Swinson v Davey - I think I'll @JoinJo

by nwhyte
I'm only very loosely engaged with the Lib Dems these days, but apparently I am engaged enough to get a vote in this month's leadership election - as I did in 2006, 2007 and 2015. There really seems very little to choose between the two candidates on policy grounds. They have similar sets of supporters, of whom I know roughly the same number in both camps. The Lib Dems are on a roll at present and seem to me likely to have a jolly good election result and a chance of participation in another coalition government under either potential candidate.

And for me that last point is crucial. The Lib Dems failed to differentiate themselves sufficiently from the Conservatives in government in 2010-15, and rightly paid the price for that. Of the two candidates, I see Jo Swinson has having had a better record during the coalition in that she staked out and defended policy territory that was distinctive to the Lib Dems. It's also a matter of fact that she has simply got more press coverage. (See Google Trends chart below; she is ahead of Ed Davey in 98 months out of 178, while he leads in 58 months; just looking at the coalition period, the lead is narrower but still there.) The coalition's record is one of the few clear dividing lines between them: Jo Swinson is clear that the party needs to "own the failures" of its time in government. "We lost too many arguments. When they fought dirty, we were too nice." Ed Davey on the other hand seems to think that the cratering of the party's reputation in government was a mere PR problem. It was much worse.

It's not just a matter of who will get the party into government after the next election; it's a matter of who is more likely to preserve it from the voters' wrath at the election after. So I think I'll #JoinJo.
04 Jul 23:19

MAD Meanderings

by evanier

That's a photo of Joe Raiola, a writer of very funny things who was a member of the editorial staff of MAD for 33 years. This morning, he posted the following to Facebook. I'll be back after it to add on my thoughts but I only disagree with two things Joe says…

During its long run, MAD Magazine inspired many second-rate imitators. There was Cracked and Sick and Crazy and so on. Oddly enough, the latest MAD imitator is MAD itself. The MAD published out of Burbank since the spring of 2018, which is being shut down, is an imitation of the real thing.

I say this not as a shot at the new MAD staff, which was thrust into an impossible situation. Not a single member of the editorial staff had any previous MAD experience, except as readers.

From 1952 to 2017, MAD had a remarkable continuity of talent. DC, which took over after Bill Gaines died in 1992, is a comic book company specializing in flying caped aliens. The former MAD staff offered sufficient resistance to remain editorially independent. And, to its credit, DC came to respect the MAD staff, even if the suits didn't fully understand the mechanics of creating a humor magazine.

When DC moved to California in 2014 and the MAD staff refused to go, DC wisely decided to leave MAD in New York. In November of 2017, Rolling Stone wrote: "Operating under the cover of barf jokes, MAD has become America's best political satire magazine."

Bottom line: For MAD to have had a chance to survive, it needed to remain in New York and the editorial reins been passed on to the "junior" staff, which had been in place for nearly two decades. That did not happen and this is the predictable result.

On a more positive note, I just found out that in 15 minutes I can save 15% on my car insurance.

Some might dismiss Joe's words as grapes of the sour kind but I don't think he's wrong except that I liked the new MAD, at least in its first issue or two, more than I think he did.  Secondly, I think it's conceivable MAD could have benefited from the right "new blood" inserted into (but not displacing) the old structure and that didn't have to happen wholly in New York. I think what went awry here is much the same thing I see as a problem with just about everything that comes out of DC Comics these days…

If you talk to anyone who works there these days — anyone! — they will tell you this: That you come to work each day wondering who's going to get fired. Eventually, inevitably, it will be you…but until that time, you won't be sure who'll be above you next week. I would imagine the decision to suddenly and unexpectedly amputate most of the MAD division has only contributed to that environment. The answer to the question "Who's in charge?" is "I dunno.  What time is it?"

Now, to be fair, MAD Magazine has long faced a problem that even the former staff could not make go completely away: It's a magazine. Magazines don't do that well these days and every danged one of them that's been around for a while is selling a fraction of what it once sold. On a percentage basis, Playboy hasn't fared much better than MAD and it's not because Americans are getting sick of looking at beautiful nude women. People just don't read magazines of any kind the way they used to.

The easy assumption is that this is the result of that new-fangled "internet" thing but it's actually a trend that began before any of us had handles or e-mail addresses. The eruption of online communication and entertainment merely turned a trickle into a waterfall.

I'm going to pause my add-on to Joe's essay here and insert one by my pal Paul Levitz, who ran DC Comics (and therefore presided in a business sense over MAD) for many years. Paul also posted what follows this morning on Facebook. Take special note of the one passage I have highlighted…

Culturally speaking, MAD Magazine is probably the most powerful print entity to emerge from the comics industry. At its peak (ironically, the Poseidon Adventure parody issue…only MAD could crest with a story about sinking)…MAD had a circulation over 2 million copies an issue, a pass-along readership that was a multiple of that, and was the magazine sold at the largest number of outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Its impact on the broader popular culture, spreading a snarky, borscht-belt, NY Jewish sense of humor and cynical attitude towards advertising, government, big business and human behavior, is immeasurable.

Founders Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Gaines, and editors Al Feldstein, Nick Meglin and John Ficarra who built on the foundation and made it a towering institution shaped the Baby Boom generation, inspiring movements from underground comix to Vietnam War protests. And the Usual Gang of Idiots — the incredible, long serving writers and cartoonists who filled the magazine — brought styles that even the most art-blind kid could recognize, they were each so distinctive and personal.

I've been proud to be a friend to some of the gang since my adolescence, and to have served as MAD's publisher for 17 years. I can't say I contributed much to its glory: I never found the business model to help it adapt to the changes in our culture, to kids' reading patterns, and technology that has accelerated the cycle of snark. But we tried, again and again.

MAD the magazine may be gone, but its legacy lives on in our conversations and our attitudes. I wrote about how the different editors' world views shaped the magazine (and our mindsets) in Studies in American Humor, Vol. 3, No. 30, a few years ago — using the vehicle of an interview with Al Jaffee, the then only "Idiot" to have worked with all of the MAD editors. There's an academic press book version of that issue coming out eventually, and much will be written about the fading of this American institution.

But today, I'm just sad.

Paul, one of the humblest guys I know, is shouldering way too much of the blame in the highlighted passage. Everyone at or around MAD for decades struggled to find that business model that would allow a magazine to thrive in a declining market for magazines.

A lot of what they did helped for a time. Purists shrieked when MAD began accepting advertising again — yes, again. Those who moaned that it was a betrayal for MAD to contain ads for "the first time" were unaware that it once had. But that move in 2001 kept the publication in the black as did upgrades in the area of interior color and print quality and various reprint projects.

What really kept MAD alive in perilous times though were (a) its tradition and (b) its content. As I've written here several times, I thought its content was really, really strong the last decade or two. There was some brilliant comedy writing in its pages.

If MAD had been the product of a small publisher working out of a low-rent office somewhere, that might have been enough. The hefty overhead of being a Time-Warner project — and their overall business model of seeking to monetize every property in every medium — caused MAD to fall short. I do not think it's gone forever. I'd bet my complete collection of that publication that the brand is too valuable to not be relaunched before long.

I just think they don't know what to do with it now…and that I blame a lot on that "Who's running the store?" problem I mentioned earlier. Since MAD was wrested from its New York crew, the answer to that question has been "Everybody" and when everyone's running the store, no one's running the store. My pal Bill Morrison was editor for a time and if you absolutely had to have someone with no MAD experience running MAD, you couldn't ask for a better pick. The problems there were that to the extent Bill was able to run it, it was in an unstable environment…and that it was still, when you got right down to it, a magazine.

I do not have a solution to that not-tiny problem. My gut tells me there is one but what the hell does my gut know about marketing? I just don't think giving up and abandoning MAD's long-established spot on newsstands and killing the "tradition" is a solution. Once those outlets stop making room for MAD on their racks, it'll be ten times as difficult to get them to clear a spot for it ever again.

Creatively, what MAD needs is a stability that I don't know is possible in the current corporate structure there. I know that the new MAD may have claimed to be the output of "The Usual Gang of Idiots" but it wasn't. The "idiots," such as they are, were not in any sense "usual."

When I fell in love with that publication in 1962, every issue was the work of more-or-less the same people: Mort Drucker, Don Martin, Antonio Prohias, Dave Berg, Frank Jacobs, Larry Siegel, Stan Hart, Al Jaffee, etc. They didn't even have Sergio Aragonés when I started buying the thing but he came along shortly after and quickly became a star there, a highlight among many in every issue. The last true star I think MAD added to its roster was Tom Richmond and that was around the turn of the century.

In the new MAD, you have a few holdovers from the previous regime like Sergio, Jaffee, Richmond, Dick DeBartolo and one or two others.  But most of the magazine has been filled with transients…folks who look like they're auditioning even though no ongoing positions seemed to be available.  The folks running MAD lately haven't found the new Don Martin, the new Jack Davis, another caricaturist besides Richmond worthy of occupying the space Drucker once did, etc.  I don't believe it's because such people don't exist.  I just think that's the way Time-Warner operates these days.

No one person among the mob of those who work on them can say what's right for Superman or Bugs Bunny or Batman or Tweety or any of the wonderful properties they've accumulated over the years.  None of those folks created the properties.  None of them has the overriding say as to what's right or wrong for them.  And not one of them can reasonably expect to be associated with that property for long.  All those legendary characters are being raised by baby-sitters, not by actual parents. Not even foster parents.

The demise of MAD is a failure of marketing and distribution and promotion; of no one finding that elusive business model that Paul mentioned.  But even a sound business model needs a sound product to sell and I'm not sure it's possible to create that in a workplace where even the highest-ranked exec is really a well-paid (for now) office temp. Joe Raiola was right. The less MAD was controlled by corporate overlords, the better it was.

02 Jul 08:20

Appendix

by Andrew Rilstone
How the Tradition Works







28 Jun 19:46

The Tories' imaginary world

by chris

Sometimes, the Tories offer us a glimpse into their psychology. So it was yesterday when Sarah Vine tweeted:

Watching the #RestaurantMakesMistakes and astonished to learn that people with dementia struggle to get benefits. Is this true? And if so, how is this not a national scandal?

What she’s expressing here is the cognitive dissonance that her own party’s policies actually have nasty effects upon real people. Her consternation arises from the fact that, for many Tories, this is not supposed to happen. Many of them, I suspect, are not actually evil but rather guilty of a recklessness that comes from a particular conception of politics – a conception which sees it as a game of positioning, and of pandering to the imagined world of the Daily Mail. Politics is a post-modern activity in which words and appearances are everything and consequences and reality are nothing.

So for example:

 - Benefit sanctions are supposed to crack down on cheats and malingerers, not real, deserving people. It is only when these appear on TV that the illusion – and it has been just that for years – is broken.

 - The “hostile environment” policy was meant to remove illegal immigrants rather than members of the Windrush generation who are, remember, 100% British.

 - Austerity was intended to establish prudent control of the nation’s finances. The fact that it has killed thousands is at best, a mere statistic, and at worst just another controversial claim.

 - Brexit is about prioritizing a conception of national sovereignty over GDP. And GDP is a mere statistic, not the jobs and livelihoods of real people. What was so transgressive about Jeremy Hunt’s promise this week to shut down Titan Steel Wheels was that he broke this illusion, and linked what is supposed to be a mere abstraction to the lives of real people. SarahMichael

All of this is possible because for Tories – at least professional ones in the media-political Bubble - politics is a reified activity separate from ground truth. Robert Protherough and John Pick have described how modern management “deals largely in symbols and abstractions...[with] little direct contact with the organization's workers, with the production of its goods or services, or with its customers.” For Tories, politics is like that. It’s a cosy game in which nobody is supposed to get seriously hurt: the losers only leave to get well-paid sinecures from fund management companies.

Of course, if we had a functioning media, reality would intrude. But we don’t, so it often doesn’t. The truth is difficult and complicated and in John Humphrys’ revealing words “a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand.” Bubble journalists are much happier covering the Tory leadership race than they are at analysing the real-world effects of actual Tory policies - a preference which generates sympathy for charlatans rather than experts. As Tom Mills says, the BBC “will aim to fairly and accurately reflect the balance of opinion amongst elites.” That can efface ground truth.

The upshot is that our media-political establishment conforms to what Kenneth Boulding said (pdf) back in 1966:

 All organizational structures tend to produce false images in the decision-maker, and that the larger and more authoritarian the organization, the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds.

The problem which Ms Vine discovered this week, though, is that reality has a nasty tendency to intrude occasionally into the imaginary world.

28 Jun 17:30

Graham Nelson on open sourcing Inform 7.

Graham Nelson on open sourcing Inform 7.
27 Jun 23:36

Shirley Jackson, The Sundial

by Wesley

1.

If you follow the news it’s hard not to spend time thinking about the end of civilization as we know it. An Australian think tank recently speculated that climate change might end it by 2050. I recently felt like reading Shirley Jackson and immediately thought of The Sundial.

The Hallorans are the wealthy patrons of a nearby village. They’ve just buried the heir. His mother, Mrs. Halloran, may or may not have pushed him downstairs. Mrs. Halloran is getting ready to rid the Halloran mansion of the family and their increasing collection of houseguests and hangers-on–everyone but Fancy, her only grandchild, who she’ll raise to be another Mr. Burns-esque tyrant like herself–when her sister-in-law Aunt Fanny receives a vision from Fanny’s dead father, the Halloran patriarch: in a few weeks the world will end. Only the people in the big house will be saved.

2.

People who’ve never read Shirley Jackson remember her as the author of that haunted house book and that story about the woman who’s stoned to death. They forget she’s funny. Shirley Jackson is one of the greatest comic writers of the twentieth century and The Sundial might be her funniest novel.

There’s a concept called “passage of disbelief.” I thought it was a common genre-criticism term, but I Googled it and the only reference I could find was on the website of a writer I’m not familiar with, so now I don’t know where I heard it. Anyway, the passage of disbelief is the part of a weird story where the characters go from disbelieving the weirdness (Aunt Fanny has lost her mind) to accepting it and dealing with the consequences (Okay, so the world is ending, what now?). As Aunt Fanny is prophesying, the uncanny appearance of a snake in the library gives the family a physical manifestation of weirdness to hang their faith on. And Mrs. Halloran is too proud not to go along: if the end is coming, she’s going to manage it. So The Sundial’s passage of disbelief is mercifully short.

This lets the book get on with things–it’s paced like a screwball comedy. And it lets Jackson milk plenty of humor from incongruity. The Hallorans receive a grand prophecy of doom and react as though the apocalypse is an momentous and inconvenient but basically normal event to plan around. The tone of their dialogue clashes with its subject. Like Arthur Dent, seeing Earth destroyed and asking if there’s any tea on this spaceship.

“Evil, and jealousy, and fear, are all going to be removed from us. I told you clearly this morning. Humanity, as an experiment, has failed.”
“Well, I’m sure I did the best I could,” Maryjane said.

The Sundial’s other comic strength is voice. Sometimes writers trying to be funny give every character interchangeable Whedonesque banter. That’s the wrong way to do it: great comedy is about individual voices and incompatible world views running into each other. Mrs. Halloran talks to everyone like she’s talking to a disappointing servant. Essex, the sycophantic young man hired to catalog the library, never misses a chance to show off his education. Miss Ogilvie, Fancy’s governess, is uncertain and timid, panicking at odd moments. Aunt Fanny switches between surface-polite cattiness to Mrs. Halloran and oracular profundities.

Any two characters are most likely talking past each other. Get everyone into the same room and you’ll be reading three overlapping conversations at the same time, not so much playing off each other as bouncing.

But The Sundial also has an air of menace. Shirley Jackson works in the liminal space between real and unreal and it keeps you constantly off-balance. It’s often unclear what’s possible in her stories, what’s metaphor and what’s literal. Even when they’re funny, they feel eerie. Didn’t we see some of these moments in earlier flashes of prophecy? As the climax approaches, isn’t the weather growing ominous? In Jackson’s world, prophecies of doom might come true.

3.

What is this world? what asketh men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave
Allone, with-outen any companye.

The Hallorans’ sundial is inscribed “What is this world?” It’s a line from Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale,” and a good question. We use the word “world” in a couple of ways. There’s the literal world (the one that’s ending, everyone’s pretty sure) and then there’s my world, or your world, or Wayne’s or Christina’s world.

Mr. Halloran created a world of his own, self contained–when Julia, one of the guests, decides to leave she wanders through a fog only to end up back at the front gate, as though the outside world has already gone. Inside the Halloran house is a dollhouse Fancy rules with a grasp as tight as her grandmother’s. More ambitiously, Fanny has recreated the four-room apartment where her parents lived when she was a child, before her father struck it rich and built the walled estate near the village. Worlds nest in each other, each shutting out another layer of unwanted reality.

A Babbity businessman who had to be talked out of plastering his mansion with slogans like “You can’t take it with you,” Mr. Halloran wanted to be lord of the manor, philanthropic patron to the villeins. Fanny just wants her parents back. Recreating their apartment is as close as she can get. The Hallorans create worlds where they can imagine living the ideal versions of their lives, and shut out whatever reminds them of the suboptimal versions. Carving out your own smaller, more manageable world can be an act of self-definition. When you’re in charge of your world you’re in charge of your life.

4.

There are a lot of apocalypses in science fiction. Like, a lot. Everybody wants to blow up the world. Standing in the bookstore skimming the blurb of this year’s dozenth zombie nightmare, you may ask: what are all these apocalypses doing here? Good things, often. Some post-apocalyptic stories explore character in extremis. Some speculate on plausible if-this-goes-on disaster scenarios and ways to survive them. Some stories are about rebuilding society and finding new (hopefully more humane) ways to order it.

But some stories just sweep the world away to give their heroes a cleaner stage to act out their fantasies. A complex, uncontrollable, frustrating world is pared down and in the new, smaller, more manageable world the survivors’ true selves are free to blossom. Which may not be that different from their old selves: the stereotypical “cozy catastrophe” follows nice middle class people muddling through the collapse of civilization with middle class niceness. But sometimes the end of the world allows some previously ignored or undervalued person to express their true heroism. Unfortunately this is often a survivalist asshole who was previously ignored because he was an asshole.

Basically, these stories are fantastical echoes of J. M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton. So are many of their close cousins, portal fantasies and unexpectedly-tossed-into-space SF. The fantasy is that we’re not really the ordinary mediocre people we appear to be. Given the right environment–a desert island, a fantasy kingdom, a post-atomic wasteland–the flaws and virtues conventional society keeps repressed would manifest in everyone, and our own true, presumably better, selves would break free. That’s not necessarily an unhealthy fantasy! People’s environments do affect them. It can be fun to imagine finding one that fits you perfectly.

As long as you’re not a survivalist asshole. The failure mode for new-world stories is the hero who confuses being their best self with being better than everyone else, or being in charge. If your true excellence is only visible after some sizable chunk of the competition has vanished, how excellent can you truly be? Maybe there are limits to how radically a sudden change in environment can transform your character. Sometimes a confused man in a bathrobe, plopped down on a spaceship, is still a confused man in a bathrobe.

One of the Hallorans’ guests does some scrying with a mirror. Her first session isn’t reassuring, but the second time she sees people dancing in a garden, carefree. She’s seeing what everyone expects her to. Fancy isn’t impressed; she thinks the apocalypse won’t change anything, and after the Hallorans have their new world they’ll just start pining for the old one. After all, the Hallorans already have an oversized garden, and if they wanted they could dance in it: the villagers do when Mrs. Halloran throws them a goodbye barbecue. If the Hallorans aren’t dancing in this world, why would they in the next?

5.

The Hallorans don’t mix with the villagers. They’ll throw a festival, sure. They’ll fund the villagers’ schools and libraries and send the brighter ones to college; the lord has obligations to the villeins. But they don’t mix with them. That’s the root of Fanny’s split with Mrs. Halloran, who “came in through the servants’ entrance” to marry the heir.

In Mrs. Halloran’s dreams she lives alone in a cottage. That would be enough as long as no one intrudes to threaten her, like the obnoxious Hansel and Gretel who invade her nightmares. To stay in control of her own life Mrs. Halloran made herself into one of those people who control everyone else. She has it down perfectly; she condescends even to her oldest friends. By the end of the book she’s typing up rules for the new world. (“Mates will be assigned by Mrs. Halloran. Indiscriminate coupling will be subject to severe punishment.”) You’d think the Hallorans were the products of a feudal system going back as far as the land itself, that Mrs. Halloran hadn’t come in through the wrong door, and that Aunt Fanny hadn’t grown up in a four-room apartment. Mr. Halloran’s world insulates the Hallorans from any hint they might not be a superior class of people.

Although for superior people, the destined masters of the new world, the Hallorans seem singularly unprepared to survive. The supplies stockpiled in the library include such necessities as a gross of corncob pipes and a carton of tennis balls. They burned the books to make room; Fanny thinks they’ll be able to get by with a boy scout manual. She also picks up a random guy to help repopulate the earth:

“Captain Scarabombardon,” said Aunt Fanny unexpectedly.
“At your service,” said the stranger, who was clearly extremely bewildered.

See, Fanny has to name him because he needs a proper identity. The Hallorans can’t save just anybody. They’re also still keeping Essex (they probably don’t need him to catalogue the boy scout manual, but we never saw him working in any case) and Miss Ogilvie, but they’re sending the ordinary servants home the night before the event. Nobody thinks they’ll be needed.

6.

Douglas Rushkoff was once invited to talk to a half-dozen hedge fund executives about the future of technology. He was caught off guard by what kind of technology they were interested in:

Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”… The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

For certain wealthy and powerful people, especially the libertarian, tech-savvy types, preparing for the future doesn’t mean making the future better or working to keep the worst possible futures from coming to pass. It means letting the disaster happen, surviving, and making sure they’re still the ones in charge.

Mr. Halloran was the beneficent lord only as long as his villagers played their roles, performing gratitude and staying in their places. If they dropped dead while building his house, he’d be angry about having to move the body. If he needed some farmer’s land for his grounds, he’d wall it off, and good luck finding a lawyer who didn’t work for him. He’d send the farmer’s son to college afterward. It wasn’t generosity. He needed to be the one who did the rescuing, the excellent one, the one who made the rules.

7.

If you’re ever feeling bored you might decide to sort apocalyptic stories into two groups. Or maybe you wouldn’t, I don’t know. Either way, one possible division is challenging and comforting stories. Comforting apocalypses are not all bad. Vonda N. McIntyre’s post-apocalypse Dreamsnake is comforting because it shows people trying to build a saner, kinder world. But other kinds of comforting apocalypse–cozy catastrophes, triumphalist survivalist stories–are about domesticating existential threats. They reassure the audience that the world can end without their personal worlds having to fundamentally change. Which is still not terrible if your personal world is modest. The problem comes when you need to be superior.

Mrs. Halloran can’t afford to ignore Fanny’s prophecy because she can’t imagine a world without Mrs. Halloran at the top.

“It is my house now, and it will be my house then. I will not relinquish one stone of it in this world or any other. Everyone must be made to remember that, and to remember that I will not relinquish, either, one fraction of my authority.”

If it were merely the end of the world, Mrs. Halloran could call Fanny crazy and put it out of her mind. But she can’t risk the possibility that the world might stop being about Mrs. Halloran.

Which it will, inevitably. She’s the center of her own world, because that’s everyone’s world looks from inside. But everybody dies, and eventually Mrs. Halloran’s world will just… stop existing. It’s the inevitable existential threat and it’s impossible to imagine. What is it like not to exist? It’s not like anything. But Mrs. Halloran also can’t imagine a world where she exists, and isn’t in charge.

Douglas Rushkoff ended his visit with the hedge fund executives by giving them some advice:

I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family. And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an “event” in the first place.

They weren’t buying it. Which is odd, because in reality most people respond to disasters by coming together to help each other–pooling resources, rescuing neighbors, working together to clean up. That is, in fact, the surest way to survive. By contrast, an underground Bond-villain bunker patrolled by shock-collared security guards is absolutely the most harebrained fantasy in the world. But for Rushkoff’s hedge fund managers, it’s at least imaginable. The end of the world is one thing, but Rushkoff’s inclusive and less unequal world would be the end of their world.

Hallorans and hedge fund managers have something in common with the people who like survivalist aspirational apocalypses: they have more fun imagining the apocalypse than imagining how to prevent it, or recover from it. It’s easier to give up the world we all have to live in than to give up their own superiority.

The wealthiest people in the 21st century–the Jeff Bezoses and Mark Zuckerbergs–have a lot of money. Like, a lot. So much money it’s hard to conceptualize exactly how much money they have. They have social capital, too; everybody listens to them, even when they’re Elon Musk. A few billionaires, if they were willing[1], could fully fund a moon-landing level plan to mitigate the effects of climate change. Unfortunately there’s a small but non-zero chance this would result in a world where, instead of basically owning everything, they were merely very rich. So instead of doing necessary maintenance on the world our billionaires spend their resources on stuff that won’t rock the boat. Or, at most, come up with goofball comic book survival schemes like seasteading, private mars colonies, and underground bunkers in New Zealand.

Good books have many possible interpretations. As time passes they take on new, unintended interpretations in new cultural contexts, sort of like the way those Admirable Crichton-story characters show new sides to their personalities in different worlds. From a 21st century perspective, The Sundial looks like a takedown of billionaire disaster-prep fantasies. If we do come to the end of our civilization–from climate change, pandemics, rising fascism, whatever–it will be at least in part because our real-life Hallorans were more frightened by the end of their world than the end of ours.


  1. Even if they were unwilling, if we just made them, y’know, pay enough taxes to pull their weight.  ↩

18 Jun 09:46

Day 6742: Constitutional Outrage

by Millennium Dome
Monday:


No one should expect to just GET to be Prime Monster!

Liberal Democrats should call for a Vote of Confidence in Parliament before ANYONE can be appointed Prime Minister, and we should demand that the Fixed Term Parliament Act be updated to make this explicit in law.



Boris Johnson looks very likely to win the contest to become leader of the Conservatory Party, already framed as “the race to be Britain’s Next PM”. And, given that he keeps dodging any questions, he could win with remarkably little scrutiny from either his fellow MPs or the public.

That’s an OUTRAGE!

AND there’s the little question of whether he can “command the confidence of the House of Commons” as the saying goes.

The rules governing how you get to become Prime Monster are written down in the Cabinet Manual, last updated at the start of the Coalition, by GOD (that is THE god, Mr Sir Gus O’Donnell, not the deity).

That’s where it says, in big letters at the start of Chapter 2:

“A government holds office by virtue of its ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons, chosen by the electorate in a general election.”

It would be shockingly unconstitutional – but I think also HIGHLY PLAUSIBLE – for Bojo to park his clowncar in Downing Street, installed as PM on the say-so of Theresa Maybe Not with NO opportunity for Parliament to test that he CAN command a majority.

Chapter 2 of the Manual gives us all the details of how a government is made.

(First a mummy government and a daddy government who love each other very much… er, no.)

So what happens when the Prime Monster changes?

The Prime Monster is the Prime Monster until they choose to resign (s2.08).

The Prime Monster MUST resign IF they lose a General Election and someone else has an overall majority (s2.11).

The Prime Monster MUST resign (because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act) IF they lose a Vote of No Confidence and are unable to pass a Vote of Confidence within 14 days (or if someone else IS) (s.2.19).

IF the administration has an overall majority, then the Party or Parties in government get to choose the new Prime Monster (s.2.18).

But what about when there ISN’T an overall majority? Remembering that the Conservatories do NOT have a majority and the Conservatories and DUP are NOT a coalition.

2.20 Where a range of different administrations could be formed, discussions may take place between political parties on who should form the next government. In these circumstances the processes and considerations described in paragraphs 2.12–2.17 would apply.

s2.12 to s2.20 are the “what to do after an election results in a hung parliament” bit.

Firstly, the incumbent government (TMPM) is entitled to wait until Parliament has met to see if it can command a majority (but is expected to resign if it’s clear that it won’t) (s.2.12)

Eventually, the resigning Prime Monster has to go to Mrs the Queen and tell her who the next Prime Monster will be. (s2.13)

[s.2.14 just says the Civil Service can help. S.2.15 says that’s what they did in 2010]

S2.16 is IMPORTANT because it says that the government can ONLY operate on RESTRICTED POWERS for as long as there is doubt over whether it can command a majority.

Finally s2.17 says what kinds of government can be formed: a minority government, winging it from vote to vote, like Hard Labour in the Winter of Discontent; a confidence and supply agreement, like we have now; a formal coalition.

But EVEN acting together, the Conservatories and the DUP can only call on 322 votes (313 Conservatories less 1 deputy speaker plus 10 DUPes); on the other side there are at most 317 votes (with Mr Speaker, 2 Labour deputy speakers and 7 Sinn Fein MPs not voting). That is a “working majority” of 5. Pretty flimsy, and why TMPM kept losing.
Worse, if the Conservatories were to lose 1 by-election to, say, the Liberal Democrats, that would be a majority of just 3. And if just 2 Conservatories were to vote against their own government, it would fall.

Reader, two Conservatories HAVE said they would vote against their own government to stop Boris Johnson and prevent no deal.

I think it’s pretty clear that things ARE in doubt whether ANY new Conservatory Prime Monster, and certainly Mr Johnson, could do the commanding of a majority.

But who is going to tell Mrs the Queen? Let’s ask the Manual…

2.09 “In modern times the convention has been that the Sovereign should not be drawn into party politics, and if there is doubt it is the responsibility of those involved in the political process, and in particular the parties represented in Parliament, to seek to determine and communicate clearly to the Sovereign who is best placed to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons.”
And that’s the big big problem because you and I both know that this government is going to say “there isn’t any doubt”.

This government or probably ANY government, but this one already has a track record of never doing anything by the rules unless someone loads up the Supreme Court and points it at their heads.

Ask Ms Gina Miller. Ask Mr Sir Kier Stammerer. Ask Mr Sir Oily Letwin.

This government tried to cut Parliament out of the Article 50 Process. This government had to be forced with “humble addresses” to deliver the reports that Davis David had promised them. This government tried to let us leave the EU by default until the backbenches seized control of the timetable.

On EVERY occasion, this government has taken “TAKE BACK CONTROL” to mean “SEIZE POWER FOR US!”

This government more than any other has shown repeatedly that you cannot trust it to let Parliament – the representatives of the people – have their proper say.

So what makes you think they will stick to a convention that says “if there is doubt” they have to talk to Parliament?

The Manual continues…

“As the Crown’s principal adviser this responsibility falls especially on the incumbent Prime Minister, who at the time of his or her resignation may also be asked by the Sovereign for a recommendation on who can best command the confidence of the House of Commons in his or her place.”

…but the current Prime Monster in Name Only, Theresa Maybe Not, is NOT a person who is as good as their word. Far from it, she promised many times that she would not hold a snap election… then held a snap election. She promised many times that we would leave the EU on March 29th … and then didn’t leave the EU on March the 29th.

More to the point, the story goes that when she lost the Conservatory majority in 2017, she allegedly lied to Mrs the Queen saying straight-up that she had the support of the DUP when in fact the billion-pound deal was only secured a week later. The Palace, it is said, were furious.

But again there’s your problem, right there. No action has been taken.

In order not to be SEEN to be political, the Palace lets fibbing in the dark go unpunished. There’s no one to bring them into the light of day.

Take also the case of the Sun’s “Queen Backs Brexit” headline, which was more than a little calculated to turn a few votes in the Referendum. Their source was a Cabinet Minister, widely believed to be Michael Gove, then leader of the Leave campaign. Surely a clear case of drawing the Crown in to politics.

If the convention had ANY teeth, the Referendum would have been voided there and then. The Sun would have been fined the full cost of mounting the process. Michael Gove, if indeed it was he, would have been summarily dismissed as an MP and never allowed to stand again. None of this happened.

It is transparently safe for the wicked to flout convention.

To paraphrase Sir Desmond Glazebrook, of Yes Minister, the whole system relies on good chaps behaving as good chaps, and a good chap can never accuse another good chap of not being a good chap because that’s not the behaviour of a good chap, and well, that’s where it all falls over.


I think this government, and with a new PM in charge the next government, will try to carry on as though it has 100% of the power, even though it has none of the right.

Remember those RESTRICTIONS on what government can do when the ability to command a majority is in doubt?

Those restrictions start with:

2.27 While the government retains its responsibility to govern and ministers remain in charge of their departments, governments are expected by convention to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character in the period immediately preceding an election, immediately afterwards if the result is unclear, and following the loss of a vote of confidence. In all three circumstances essential business must be allowed to continue.

And I think that means that until Boris or whoever is confirmed as the new PM by a Vote of Confidence, they should not be allowed to make a major change of policy like leaving the EU with no deal (in contravention of everything the current incarnation of this government has tried and failed to do, and against the repeated expressed will of Parliament).

But short of yet another date with the SUPREMES in Court, who is going to ENFORCE this?



So, here’s what I say:

An aspiring Prime Minister should be OBLIGED to bring a Motion of Confidence to the House of Commons, laying out their plan for government, so that it can be debated and voted on, BEFORE they can become PM.

Whether their Party is in a majority (when they shouldn’t have a problem with that), or planning to run a coalition (and their coalition partners would probably like to know), or trying to run a minority government (as is the current case), then Parliament should be able to pin them down and hold them to account.

The policy statement wouldn’t be enforceable, as such, but breaking it in some way – like saying you will try to do a new deal with the EU and then going for a “no deal” crash out – would obviously be grounds for a No Confidence vote.

And it needs to be in an Act of Parliament, because then people will NOTICE it, and especially JOURNALISTS will notice it, and EXPECT IT TO BE DONE.

Think this is unnecessary? Ask yourself: how many people are considering this Constitutional nicety right now? Answer: NONE. Everyone EXPECTS that whoever wins the Tory Leadership WILL BE Prime Monster.

It is so much easier to dodge these bits of the Constitution that only exist in papers, conventions and precedents. Look how this government HAS DONE THAT.

We are Liberals. It is OUR JOB to stop people just GRABBING power. We should not accept this. And we need to say so.
18 Jun 09:03

Meta2

by Peter Watts

“Get used to disappointment.”
—The Dread Pirate Roberts

.

First, the PSA: Yeah, Freeze-Frame has evidently made the finals for the Campbell. Given its cohabitation with nine other worthy finalists, I’m not holding my breath. Realistically, I expect FFR will not win the Campbell a full day before it doesn’t win the Locus. On the plus side, it has already won something called the Nowa Fantastyka Award for Best Foreign Novel over in Poland, an honor of which my Polish publishers have, oddly, yet to inform me (I only found out about it while egosurfing). I’m told they took the trophy home, though.

The Poles. They never let me down.

But it is none of these things that I mainly write about today. Today I’m focusing on a whole other species of tribute, and it involves AI.

*

Back when I was doing research for “The Wisdom of Crowds”, I poked around amongst various articles on deep learning and textbots. These included Sam Gallagher’s recent Ars Technica piece, which introduced me to OpenAI’s GPT-2: a textbot which devours the souls of FDA reports and Clinton speeches and Amazon product reviews, and channels it all back into output running the gamut from uncanny—

According to a study published by the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 400,000 people die from transfusions every year, mostly due to an array of diseases, from HIV infection to Type 2 diabetes. At age 24, nearly 60 percent of these deaths are caused by transfusions, even though there is a significant genetic and physical impairment which results in over-fatal events such as heart attacks, stroke or stroke-related strokes.1

—to downright Trumpian—

GOAT DICK-IN-THE-BOY BOY

GREAT BOY

GREAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT- GOAT

GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT-GOAT2

—to somewhere in between:

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea and most closely aligned with the United States, has warned of an imminent U.S. attack. The test of a hydrogen bomb Thursday killed 13 people and injured several others in a Pyongyang explosion, the country’s state TV station reported.<|endoftext|>Coconut Cream

Put aside the false claims of H-bombs in Pyongyan et al. If stating falsehoods was enough to fail a Turing Test, you’d be able to count the entire sapient population of the Internet on your fingers and toes— and besides, the whole point of deepfakery is to sheathe lies in an aura of verisimilitude. Give a pass also to that Coconut-cream glitch and its kin, since the Ars Technica output was generated not by GPT-2 itself but by a lobotomized variant running a mere 117 million parameters; the fully-fledged program (which handles 1.5 billion parameters) isn’t nearly so likely to commit such obvious mistakes. (That’s the very reason why Ars didn’t have access to it, in fact: OpenAI has refused to release it because it’s too good, could too easily  be used for nefarious purposes.)

These deep-learning text-generating algos are getting asymptotically close to real-world iterations of Searle’s Chinese Room. So it was probably only a matter of time before someone, in an act of supreme metaness, applied one of them to Blindsight.

“Someone” turns out to be Cody Raskin, an astrophysicist working out of Lawrence Livermore. He fed Blindsight into a Google deep learning network and told it to write a sequel. Total output weighs in at almost 1400 words and is worth checking out in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts for the time-constrained:

I thought as Sarasti fell back on old tricks and countermeasures: I pushed out an arm from the shuttle and watched it slacken, the tendrils trailing like the tail of a fish behind the rack. I heard him grunt.

The shuttle was aloft now. It swung quickly down the spine and disappeared. A low clatter to one side had the echo of a thousand arms flexing before my gaze. A second slipped by, almost imperceptible, like the heartbeat of a mosquito on a wire.

One of the arms flared and split open. Rorschach resisted my reflexive gaze; I had to keep my gaze fixed on my post-capture host in order to register Rorschach moving around the drum like some sort of living insect.

“The idea that the brain doesn’t create information is an illusion. It’s like telling me that my eyes are not reflecting to my brain, and that’s not what it’s doing, which is to point out that there’s some subtle but significant difference between seeing and knowing.”

“You don’t think that’s exactly the kind of thing the brain determines, do you? Do you?” she said.

“I’m really going out on a limb here. The details come from the study of the behavior of the neurons, not from some fancy theoretical description of the brain.”

“How so?”

“Because when you watch what’s going on beneath the surface, the brain has to balance all of the sensory information, and when your eyes aren’t looking at the same thing over and over and over—well, that’s not so simple, is it?” She smiled at him. “It all looks very complicated to us, but what’s happening in the brain’s head is not that simple to the eyes. What’s interesting about the brain is that it doesn’t really know.”

“But it does.” Bates agreed. “The way you know is the way you do.”

Not that Sarasti believed the story. But he knew a lot more now than he had then. That was perhaps even more important than his own ability. He was aware that I was listening; at least of what he said, of what he really had to say, he knew that I was watching.

But I always knew and was aware, and knew something.

I knew what I was thinking. And I knew what I was saying.

He had known the answer to that question for several hours, and he had had it all figured out for the other eleven, if I was being honest. He had known my feelings at that moment; he had known the consequences if I was right; he had also known precisely how long I would have to play the game; and at this point the consequences were so plain that I didn’t even have to guess them.

I knew that this was all for nothing—that Sarasti would just find another victim.

I never had a chance, though. I was so close. I was so goddamn far away.

I was at the bottom of the mountain.

I was sitting in this chair.

 

There are a few predictable reactions to all this. An inevitable contingent will hold that this AI-generated content is significantly better than the real sequel to Blindsight— and because I’m not entirely unsympathetic to that point of view, I suggest we all pause a moment to let those folks get that out of their system.

Another response is to be spooked out by the style. It really does rather sound like me; and there’s an undeniable lilt, a rhythm to words that somehow lulls you into thinking they make sense even when they don’t. Cody calls it a “jabberwocky” quality: “you get the sense that it’s saying something, and images are certainly formed in your mind, but you can’t quite pin down what’s actually happening.” It fascinates me, this sense of meaning without substance. I’d almost call it a metaphor for the answers career politicians give to sticky questions: glib, eloquent, somehow reassuring until you try to parse the actual meaning behind the words and fail to find any. But I can’t quite call it metaphor, because it seems too damn close to the mark for mere analogy. I suspect that speech-writers use pretty much the same algorithms these textbots do.

But what’s haunting me right now is temptation. Because while applying a Chinese Room to a book about Chinese Rooms is deliciously meta, we can push it further. I am, after all, plotting out a third and final volume in the Blindopraxia sequence— and at least part of that novel is likely to tangle with the dissolution of consciousness on the part of certain characters. It’s a process which might be well represented by the sort of stream-of-nonconsciousness put out by neural nets channeling the words of the conscious.

Right now I can’t think of anything cooler than getting an AI to generate at least some elements of Omniscience. I have no idea if I could make it work— logistically or thematically— but we’d need to come up with some new word for the result.

“Meta” would only get us halfway.


1 Based on text from an AT article on blood transfusions

2 Which was, allegedly, based on text from an actual Trump speech.

16 Jun 14:35

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for June 16, 2019

15 Jun 20:34

Endorsing Jo Swinson for Leader of the Liberal Democrats

by po8crg

About 20 years ago, Jo Swinson was Vice-Chair of Liberal Democrat Youth and Students of England and Wales, and volunteered to take on the task of reviewing the constitution of that organisation, partly because it needed reviewing; partly in order to create a Scotland-shaped hole so that it could become an organisation across all of Great Britain.

She was not and is not, by the very high standards that the Lib Dems have for such, an expert in the details of constitutions. But she consulted a wide variety of people, she took opinions – some about very fine details – seriously enough to understand them and to come to an view of her own on those questions, and she developed an effective and flexible constitution that is the foundation of the structure used by the Young Liberals to this day.

As is clear from the problems with the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, or the relationship between the UK government and those of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, designing a constitutional change in detail and foreseeing the problems that might arise in ten or twenty – or fifty – years time is an important skill, and will especially be one for the Leader of a party that seeks extensive and profound constitutional change. I can think of very few people I would trust with the British constitution more than Jo. Certainly, I’d trust her more than myself – I’d get focused on my own opinions and not consult and listen as widely and as skilfully as she would.

That’s the piece of personal experience I have that convinced me that Jo was a politician of unusual and high talents. Nothing I have seen in the last 20 years has changed any part of that opinion, and everything I’ve seen has reinforced that view – and she has added skills and knowledge over the years, including five years as a minister.

So that’s why I’ll be voting for her for Leader of the Liberal Democrats. It might not be the case she would make for herself, but it’s the case that convinced me.

15 Jun 20:33

Day 6739: Polls Apart

by Millennium Dome
Friday:


It is three weeks since the European Elections changed everything and there’s really only one story in town. It’s just not the one you think it is.

With 3 MEPS Lib Dems topped the poll in London


Obviously, the news cycles are dominated by the Conservatory leadership. After all, Game of Thrones is over now, and the audience needs a new hit of blood, guts and sexposition…

But whether the idiot in the clown-car is now a shoe in for the Iron Throne or might still get removed by an unexpected twist, what’s less obvious is that the entire debate is framed by the real confrontation: Liberals versus Fascists.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

Brexit has always, always been about choosing whether we are a closed off, inward-looking Little England trying to recapture a past that never was, or an outward, embracing, forward-facing Great Britain working with the family of nations for a freer fairer future.

The failure of Theresa Maybe Not to get a Brexit that was Brexity enough for the Mogglodytes meant we got to take part in the HUGE democratic exercise that is the European Elections.

Which lead to the ENTIRELY PREDICTABLE comeback of Nigel Farrago and his Kippers 2.0. No policies. Just an overweening ego and a betrayal narrative.

(“oh but we all know what Nigel stands for” – well on the evidence, stealing his constituents’ money to spend on propaganda so he can continue to not do his job and fail to defend Britain’s interests. How’s THAT for a betrayal narrative?”)

What was less predictable – in the sense that it was predicted by absolutely no one up to and including Professor Sir Not-Richard Curtis while he was reporting the actual actual figures on local election night and still saying “well this is going to be a good night for the Greens” as the Lib Dems soared passed 700 gains – was that the Liberal Democrats would be the clear opposition.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

A simple, clear message. “Stop Brexit”. We changed our story, and changed the national story.

We stood up for our values. Liberal , not “centrist”. No more standing in the middle, apologetically getting hit by cars coming in either direction. Taking a stand – like we did on Iraq, like we did on I.D. cards. Not necessarily the popular choice, or the easy choice. But the right choice.

And that was all it took, for us to win London. To break Nasty Nige’s claims to be the “winner”.

Parties that favour Remain outnumbered the Quitlings on election night, and a big big part of that is the Liberal Democrats. We might not quite have managed to form a Remain Alliance, but together the Liberal voices and Green voices and Scottish and Welsh Voices are more and better than the Brexit Party.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!


So the polls – I mean never mind the polls, but the actual vote on Euro-election night put us second, beating Hard Labour’s wilting rose and the Conservatory’s burning tree; the actual votes in Peterborough show us quadrupling our vote in Brexit central – but since then polls have shown us well up, including one having us tops.

What can all this mean?

It means two things. First, there is no limit to what we can achieve, and there should be no limit to the ambitions of our next leader, whoever SHE is.

(What? What! Oh go on, vote for Jo!)

But second it means we must embrace that clear Liberal message. When we speak with our fluffy hearts, when we are clear, when we are Liberal we win.

This country needs healing. So much. And we will offer hope for everyone. But we cannot try to offer something that will satisfy everyone. We cannot try to straddle that divide. Look at what happened to Labour. They said they were trying to bring the country together. They were – rightly – seen as trying to say one thing to Remainers and the opposite to Quitlings. If you speak with two faces, soon people start to think of you as two-faced.

The nearest comparison is Northern Ireland. It’s a bit artificial, because there are artificial rules there that mean you have to have Unionist and Nationalist power-sharing. But when the brakes were taken off after the Good Friday agreement, the votes didn’t go to the middle of the road Parties, they went to the ones who said what they meant.

That’s happening in the rest of Britain. Liberal Democrats on the one side. Brexits on the other. No longer right and left. Right and Wrong.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Who’d have guessed?!

If there was a time when the gulf could have been crossed, it was in the weeks after the Referendum, when a Prime Minister of vision could have brought together people from different sides to find a solution that saw us leave but remain close. It would have cost a bit for both sides, but Remainers would have been soothed, and Quitters would have had their departure.

But instead, the Quitlings went berserk. Seizing their waffer-thin victory, cobbled together by promising a different Brexit to almost every different voter, and claiming that it was a mandate for whatever mad scheme entered their heads: abolish human rights – will of the people, Empire 2.0 – will of the people! Denounce the judges – will of the people., General Election to Crush the Saboteurs – will of the pe… oh fluff, look how that collision with reality worked out.

Last week, there was research showing that the soon-to-be-former Prime Monster’s three years of promising No Deal because it’s better than a Bad Deal right up to the point of sitting down and being show just how very much WORSE it was has not been completely successful in bringing the country back together either.

In fact, if you want to piss off 90% of the people, just pick a Brexit. Any Brexit.

TMPM’s catalogue of cluelessness has hardened opinions all round so much so that each different Brexit tribe is now so utterly convinced of their own deluded version of Brexit (no migration Brexit, sovereignty Brexit, take back our laws Brexit, Singapore on Stilts Brexit, Red White and Blue Brexit, In Out Shake it All About Brexit and every other Magic Unicorn Brexit) and utterly so convinced that any other Brexit would be a BETRAYAL™ that they would all rather we Remain than get the WRONG BREXIT™.

And the 48%, who might well have accepted with a few British grumbles that they lost in 2016, are more pissed than ever that they’ve not only not been listened to, and called traitors up and down the country by that fatuous fag-smoking former banker in the affected Barbour Jacket, that they are now more than willing to say, you know what, we were actually bloody RIGHT in that Referendum and we damn well don’t want to put up with this Brexit nonsense any more.

Everything has changed.

The old parties tried to ride Farrage’s tiger and it’s turned on them and eaten them.

There is only one path to healing.

And that is Stop Brexit. Bollocks to Brexit. We are better than this. And when we say so, we win.

Liberals. Standing up to the Fascists. Damn right. And about time too!

13 Jun 16:39

Sherlock Holmes vs. Dirk Gently

by Wesley

“We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic.”
– “A Case of Identity”

I might be laughed out of Sherlock Holmes fandom for this, but I think Inspector Lestrade is a good detective when we’re not looking.

I mean, he must be. He’s reached the rank of Inspector without getting fired. Most of the time, when Holmes isn’t around, he’s probably not getting the wrong guy. My theory is that Lestrade is a perfectly good detective as long as he’s investigating crimes that make some kind of sense.

Lestrade’s mistaken arrests are based on sensible assumptions. Take “The Norwood Builder.” Holmes’ client, the unhappy John Hector McFarlane, is a lawyer. The Norwood builder of the title hired McFarlane to make out a will leaving his fortune to McFarlane himself. So when the builder turns up dead of course Lestrade is going to arrest McFarlane. I mean, who else would it be?

What Lestrade doesn’t realize is that he is in a Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t police procedurals. They’re melodramas with improbable plots and feverishly heightened emotions. Realistically no ethical lawyer would make out a will to himself; in “The Norwood Builder” it’s unusual, but not unprofessional. Realistically a creep wanting revenge on the woman who turned him down is unlikely to wait twenty years, then fake his own death to pin the murder on her son. In “The Norwood Builder” it’s just one of those things that happen. Procedural detective stories follow the laws of realism. Holmes’ cases follows the laws of melodrama. These are the times Lestrade needs Sherlock Holmes to swoop in and point out the trifling incongruities that reveal something weird.

“How often have I said to you,” says Holmes in The Sign of the Four, “that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Douglas Adams wrote a couple of novels about a “holistic detective” named Dirk Gently. Dirk has a fundamental disagreement with Holmes. As he explains in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul: “The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is just that it is hopelessly improbable? Your instinct is to say, ‘Yes, but he or she simply wouldn’t do that.’”

They’re both right.

Sherlock Holmes lives in a world where improbable things happen: seriously, that kid is a terrible lawyer. But never impossible things: no ghosts need apply. In Dirk Gently’s world, apparently impossible things turn out to be true: why yes, that elderly professor does have a time machine in his rooms. But never improbable things: even in the face of deep weirdness, people have everyday motivations and emotional reactions (a lot of Adams’ comedy is based in bathos).

Sherlock Holmes and Dirk Gently are great detectives because they firmly grasp the true range of what is possible in their respective worlds. This is often not true of detectives in real life. In a different way it’s also not true of Inspector Lestrade, whose down to earth detecting style might work reasonably well in the real world but fails in the world as written by Arthur Conan Doyle. If Lestrade has a fault, it’s that he doesn’t always know his own genre.

11 Jun 14:35

Josephine Tey, To Love and Be Wise (With a Guest Appearance by Michael Innes)

by Wesley

1.

Okay. So I hadn’t planned on blog posts being an annual event, but since 2016 I’ve been… distractible. Attention span, (and constant free-floating anxiety) aside, much of my reading has been comfort fiction about which I haven’t often had interesting thoughts. This may be the first of a new run of blogging. Or not, in which case, hey, see you in 2020.

2.

I’ve been reading a lot of mystery novels. Old ones, because they have more problem-solving than angst. I like watching characters make lists and exchange theories.

To Love and Be Wise is the last Josephine Tey mystery I hadn’t yet read. I sort of enjoy Josephine Tey and sort of don’t. She’s the crime-novel equivalent of Robert Heinlein: her prose is compulsively readable, but the whole time you’re thinking Christ, what an asshole. Her narrative voice (usually inhabiting the thoughts of Alan Grant, her detective, or whoever else her main character is) sorts every character into “liked” and “disliked” and when it decides to dislike someone it sticks the knife in constantly and mercilessly. Even Grant’s kind, patient girlfriend can’t catch a break:

‘Cooney was one of the best-known press photographers in the States. He was killed while photographing one of those Balkan flare-ups a year or two ago.’
‘You know everything, don’t you.’
It was on the tip of Grant’s tongue to say: ‘Anyone but an actress would have known that,’ but he liked Marta.

Golden Age mysteries pay a lot of attention to class. You’re constantly aware of how every character is placed. Tey, though, is incredibly classist. Her novels take place in a world where you can reliably read a person’s deep and fundamental character from their class markers–their appearance, their voice, their clothes. Good people are classy. They know their place, high or low, and inhabit it gracefully, effortlessly. Bad people are awkward, out of place, resentful; they try too hard. Bad people are inelegant.

Nothing Tey wrote is as snobbish as The Franchise Affair, but chapter four of To Love and Be Wise includes a passage that sums up her novels’ worldview as neatly as anything she wrote. It is absolutely, stereotypically characteristic of Tey that she thinks “bounder” is a serious insult:

Sitting watching the charm at work, Walter thought how ineradicable was the ‘bounder’ in a man’s personality…. What made a man a bounder was a quality of mind. A crassness. A lack of sensitivity. It was something that was quite incurable; a spiritual astigmatism. And Toby Tullis, after all those years, stayed unmistakably a bounder.

Etymologically, a “bounder” is someone whose behavior is out of bounds. In practice, a bounder doesn’t just stray outside the bounds of proper behavior, but of class. Toby Tullis is a playwright who’s risen to the point where he “was dressed by the world’s best tailors and had acquired the social tricks of the world’s best people” but he’s always “off key” because they’re not in his nature, his “essence.” He doesn’t have the breeding. This is the response he gets from the actually classy:

Looking sideways to see how Searle was taking this odd wooing, Walter was delighted to observe a sort of absentmindedness in Searle as he consumed his beer. The degree of absentmindedness was beautifully graded, Walter noticed; any more would have laid him open to the charge of rudeness and so put him in the wrong, any less might not have been obvious enough to sting Tullis. As it was, Toby was baffled into trying far too hard and making a fool of himself.

Which seems a crass and insensitive thing to find delightful. Still, Tey is often actually amusing, sometimes even when she’s cruel. And her prose is elegant in just the way her narrative voice seems to value: perfectly pitched, graceful, effortless, always saying exactly what it means. I love her books, and feel awful when I read them.

3.

My favorite part of To Love and Be Wise is awkward to write about, because the first time you read the book it ought to be a surprise. It’s something this book has in common with There Came Both Mist and Snow, a novel by Michael Innes, and you ought to be surprised by it there, too. Angst about “spoiler culture” on the internet recently led to a backlash with some people suggesting that caring about spoilers is always bad. And, yeah, a lot of media fans define “spoilers” too broadly and police them too avidly. But a feeling of surprise and discovery can be fun. And when reading a book for the first time surprise is often crucial to the effect the book is trying to deliver. It feels great when a book arrives somewhere you hadn’t expected.

What I’m saying is, if you’re planning to read these books, fair warning.

4.

To Love and Be Wise is about an American photographer, Leslie Searle, who vanishes during a visit to a British family who met him once and were instantly charmed, Searle being instantly charming. (Absent yet compellingly charismatic characters are a recurring theme in Tey. There’s also the murdered passenger in The Singing Sands and Richard III in The Daughter of Time.) There Came Both Mist and Snow, part of Michael Innes’ Inspector Appleby series, is about a shooting which may graduate to murder if the victim doesn’t pull out of his coma.

Both books are full of the stuff of the traditional British mystery. There are miniature worlds, subcultures or microcosms, broken by crime–in these books, ultra-traditional country houses (part of an artists’ colony in the Tey, an isolated priory in the Innes). There are large casts with contentious relationships to tease out. There are sensitive police detectives with liberal-arts educations, who restore order. That’s the comforting part of the detective story: detectives have the power to restore order by identifying the culprit who destroyed it.

And there has to be a culprit. You can’t restore order without a crime to disarrange it in the first place, and there’s no crime without guilt. And everyone is somehow guilty, because what’s a mystery without red herrings? The detective dredges up every secret, forces everyone to face whatever repressed ugliness they ignore to get through the day. And it all starts with a death. For whatever reason, detective novels long ago decided murder was the only crime worth writing novels about. (A mistake, I think; you could get perfectly interesting novels out of scams, impossible heists, and complicated embezzlement schemes.) At least two people, criminal and victim, will never step back into their places in society no matter how well you re-order it.

Once broken, you can’t entirely fix the world. Even the coziest mystery is a little sad.

5.

J. R. R. Tolkien, who should have followed up The Lord of the Rings with a series of gently comic Hobbit detective novels (it would have been way more fun than the Silmarillion), once coined the word eucatastrophe. A eucatastrophe is a “good catastrophe.” If a catastrophe is a sudden unexpected disaster, a eucatastrophe is a sudden unexpected deliverance. Take The Lord of the Rings: Frodo fails, our heroes are screwed, but somehow the ring still ends up destroyed.

Tolkein emphasizes that the eucatastrophe is a sudden “turn”–not just a happy ending, an unexpectedly happy ending. In retrospect it all makes sense (Tolkein starts setting up the resolution of The Lord of the Rings in the first book). But until this moment, given the story you’ve been reading, an ending this redemptive hadn’t occurred to you as a possibility.

6.

At the end of To Love and Be Wise, after chapters spent dragging the river, sure a body will turn up any moment, Alan Grant has a revelation: Leslie Searle never existed. He was a male persona created by a woman he’d claimed as his only living relative. She’d used it to investigate some friends of friends, dropped it when they turned out to be not to be the people she’d assumed, and later was too embarrassed to come forward. There was never any crime worse than inadvertently wasting the police’s time.

At the end of There Came Both Mist and Snow Inspector Appleby runs through a succession of plausible theories on who shot the victim and why, finally pressuring everyone into confessing the apparently damning facts that, together, prove no one is damned. The gun went off by itself because a piece of metal contracted in the extreme cold, and, incidentally, the victim is going to pull through. There was never any crime at all.

These are detective novels that end in eucatastrophe. Not just a restoration of order following a crime, but the revelation that there was no crime, or at least the crime wasn’t serious, and wasn’t committed out of malice. No one is culpable. The world was never really broken.

Crime novels almost never end like this. These two are the only ones I have read and can remember that do. There’s an obvious reason for that: if crime novels used this ending too often it would stop feeling pleasantly surprising and start feeling unintentionally funny. It’s more common in short stories. Arthur Conan Doyle used it a few times–there’s no crime in “The Missing Three Quarter”, for instance. “The Man With the Twisted Lip”, like To Love and Be Wise, is about a situation mistaken for murder because straightening things out would require the “victim” to admit to a more trivial crime. The Sherlock Holmes stories have plenty of leeway to be weird. They were written before the Detective Story was a codified genre, before things that rarely happened–eucatastrophic crime stories, murder-free detective stories–became things that weren’t even supposed to happen.

Imagine a novel with the opposite emotional affect: a detective novel where order is not straightforwardly restored and we’re left with an even bigger mystery than we started with. There are plenty of novels like this outside the strict published-as-mystery category. But every so often I’d like to read an honest-to-god formulaic detective novel that ends with deeper enigmas, just like every so often I like reading detective novels that play tricks with narration, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd-style. (I’m not saying exactly what trick that book plays, but the fact that it plays a trick is well enough known that it’s not a spoiler.)[1]

It’s interesting to go to Goodreads or Amazon and read one-star reviews of Roger Ackroyd, or the other books discussed here. Some readers don’t like Christie’s writing, or Tey’s or Innes’, which is fair enough, but some are annoyed by the endings: “I can’t imagine a less satisfying ending,” is one reader’s verdict on Innes.[2] For some readers, a eucatastrophe or an unreliable narrator is a cop-out; for a few, maybe even genuinely upsetting in its upending of their expectations.

I can’t agree with them, but it’s not because I never have expectations to fulfill. Some formulas push my buttons. The detective-story formula is one.[3] That To Love and Be Wise’s eucatastrophe is a rare ending for a detective novel is exactly what makes it feel like such a relief. But I love the departures from formula as much as the formulas themselves. It’s the fact that detective novels can be twisted, distorted, and warped without breaking them, that any given detective novel might turn out to be one of the odd ones, that keeps them interesting.


  1. I’ve read two translated detective novels predating Christie’s novel that play the exact same narrative trick. I’m not sure Christie would have had a chance to read either book.  ↩

  2. “I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that another of her books features a denouement in which it is revealed that it was actually the reader whodunnit,” grumps one Roger Ackroyd reviewer on Goodreads, and all I can think is that sounds awesome.  ↩

  3. I also love Jamesian ghost stories and those episodes of Star Trek where they solve problems by talking about them over a conference table.  ↩

26 May 15:14

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for May 26, 2019

21 May 10:00

Remember that at the 2014 Euro elections YouGov, by some margin, was the most accurate pollster

by Mike Smithson


2014 Euros polling – Wikipedia

The others overstated UKIP lead by upto 7%

With polls coming thick and fast at the moment the one big trend is that YouGov has been showing markedly better numbers for TBP and the LDs than just about all the others. At times like this it is useful to look at the record and what happened last time.

The table above shows how well YouGov did in 2014 compared with the other firms and overstated Farage’s then party the least.

Clearly that was all five years ago but it is worth highlighting. The key to polling low turnout elections is to ensure that as far as possible your numbers are based on the views of those who have or will actually vote. It is here that YouGov, who first got into online polling nearly 20 years ago, has probably got an edge if only because of the data it has on its polling panel.

But who knows? GE2015 was a shock followed by the Brexit referendum in 2016 and of course GE2017. Might we see something like that when the Euro results start coming out a 1opm on Sunday night?

Mike Smithson

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21 May 10:00

CMAP #16: Book Title Blues

by Charlie Stross

So a couple of months ago I handed in a new novel (it won't be out until the second half of 2020--these things have a long lead time). And it occurs to me that it's probably worth discussing book titles at some point, because I haven't really done so before.

As I noted in CMAP 6: Why is your book cover so awful? the only thing an author is expected to provide to a publisher is a finished manuscript containing the text of a novel (which they will then colaborate with the publisher on editing and proofread and, these days, marketing). The cover is not within the author's remit, and indeed the author may not see it before the general public. Nor is the cover marketing copy the author's job (writing cover copy that sells books, and writing books, are very different tasks, and many authors are utterly dire at writing their own marketing copy).

But something that also escapes many readers is that book titles are (a) fraught, and (b) not necessarily the author's job either. Which prompts me to write another entry in my ancient and haphazard series of essays about Common Misconceptions about Publishing (CMAP).

When I sold my first novel to Ace in 2001, it was not titled "Singularity Sky": it was called "Festival of Fools". But Ace already had a book on inventory with a very similar title--"Ship of Fools" by Richard Paul Russo--and my editor wanted to avoid any confusion in the minds of bookstore clerks (16-17 years ago Amazon was much less significant to book sales than they are today: the action was all Barnes and Noble/Borders). Also, my novelette "Lobsters" was on the Hugo shortlist and the big buzzing thing in hard SF was the Singularity. "Can you come up with a new title? And it needs to have the singularity word in it--the singularity is hot," she told me, then gave me a number of suggestions that made me want to stick my fingers down my throat. In the end we agreed to disagree on Singularity Sky", which (being followed 2 books later by "Accelerando") resulted in me being labelled the "Singularity Dude" for the first decade of my bookselling career, much as a different unfortunate trope choice can lead to you being called the Talking Cat Guy if you're unwary enough to put talking cats in two or more works of fiction the same decade.

(I am so over the singularity, okay? It's just dead to me. HAND.)

Now, I mentioned Amazon. During the first decade of the noughties, Amazon was gathering momentum as a sales channel to rival (later eclipse) the big bookstore chains. And the internet as a thing was gradually coming to the attention of elderly publishers who still expected to receive manuscripts typed double-spaced in 10 point Courier, the way Mark Twain used to send 'em in, dammit, even though we were all using word processors and submitting electronically by then.

The first rumble of thunder from the approaching stormfront was a diktat from management level at my US publisher: "all series of three or more books must now have a series title--no exceptions". I got this memo by way of my editor at Ace around 2007 or 2008, in the shape of an email telling me I was now the author of the Laundry Files. Why the Laundry Files? Well, in the first two books Bob called his employer, SOE X-Division, "the Laundry", as a joking nickname (I will note that in real life GCHQ, the Government Communications HQ agency, the British version of the NSA, is known as "the donut", due to the shape of its eponymous headquarters building in Cheltenham). And Ginjer's imprint also published Jim Butcher, whose bestselling series was the Dresden Files. So I spent the next decade cringing slightly and feeling like I was being marketed on Jim's coat-tails to readers of urban fantasy, and as some kind of detergent directory to everybody else.

(My other big series at Tor got named "the Merchant Princes" for similar reasons, but that title at least bears some resemblance to the subject matter.)

So, lesson 1: they're gonna want a series title, because it makes google and Amazon searches easier for your reader. Be prepared to cough one up even if you've only written one book, because if you don't, the marketing department are going to play "pin the tail on the donkey" and you're going to be stuck with a thumb-tack in your arse for the next decade if they choose badly.

Lesson 2 was a bit more obvious: if writing a series, it should be clear that you want to pick book titles that are roughly similar in form and tie into a common theme, so as not to confuse your readers.

The Laundry Files' book title structure is fairly simple and consistent: it's a definite article ("the", or maybe "a"), followed by an intriguing noun ("Jennifer", "Atrocity", "Labyrinth") that ties into something in the story, and then a noun describing a type of document or corpus of texts ("archive", "index", "codex", "morgue"--as in, a newspaper morgue). If you look at one of my book titles you can probably spot a Laundry Files book just by its name, right?

But I got hit by lightning in 2013, when I handed in the sixth Laundry Files installment. That one was titled "The Armageddon Score", because it's the Mo novel, and she's playing her violin, and it's going to bring about the end of the world if she's not careful. Obvious, see?

However, my UK editor nixed it on sight. "Charlie, have you googled this?" she asked. (Said British editor is of a different generation: under 40 with blue hair, goes LARPing, understands these new-fangled Babbage engines. See, not all editors are old school!)

And I googled "The Armageddon Score" and fuck me if she wasn't right: anyone typing the title of my novel into Google would come up with the sound track to a Bruce Willis movie instead.

Which leads to Lesson 3: google your proposed titles (and check them on Amazon), or you'll be sorry.

I note that title conflicts are a movable feast. That book I handed in is titled "Lost Boys", because it riffs off Peter and Wendy (the original of Disney's Peter Pan, and can I just say that if you ditch Disney's pernicious twee santised version and to back to basics it's really horrifyingly grim?). Now, if you feed "Lost Boys" to Amazon you will of course get the cult 90s movie. But you'll also get about a dozen novels containing revisionist or fan-fic takes on Peter Pan, because obviously.

Was it rash of me to try to recycle the same resonant title as a bunch of other books?

If I was just starting out, it would be foolhardy. But I'm nearly 30 books into a career and these days my publishers print my name on the book cover in a larger typesize than the book title itself--this is the definition of a "big name" author: it simply means that the author's name sells books on their own merit, rather than the book standing unsupported in the marketplace. So one may hope that readers might search for "Stross Lost Boys" rather than just "Lost Boys."

But this isn't under my control: and it's quite possible the title will be swapped out from under me before the book is officially announced, just to reduce the risk of search engine mis-hits.

As a complicating factor, "Lost Boys" is hopefully the start of a new series spinning off from "The Laundry Files" much as "Deep Space Nine" was a by-blow of "Star Trek"; different focus, different characters, zero relationship with the Laundry itself--but sharing the same setting. Marketing will thus get a say. On the one hand: pitching it as book 10 of the Laundry Files guarantees a certain level of sales. On the other hand: it also guarantees not selling to people who don't want to jump in on book 10 of a series, or who don't want to read about the Laundry. And it would also annoy some readers, who expect Bob and the gang and are instead going to be confronted with SPOILER instead. So I don't even know what series title is going to go on this one, let alone whether the title will survive to publication.

We're now well established in the age of Amazon, Google, Facebook, eBay, Apple, and Microsoft--the big platforms. The title structure of novels has been changing increasingly fast over the past decade, so that now you'll often see the series title and book title concatenated, then followed by a brief descriptive gloss, simply because we locate books by searching. Back in 1988, noted SF satirist (and multiple Hugo winner) Dave Langford published a book titled "Dragonhiker's Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune's Edge, Odyssey Two". I'd like to note that this is pitch-perfect for a self-published Kindle Unlimited title, even though Dave was taking the piss at the time. If I followed the self-pub title playbook, this one would be called something like "Laundry Universe book 10: the Lost Boys Files, a humerous horror novel about Peter Pan in the age of the New Management". Which is kind of a pantomime horse of a title (or maybe a dromedary) but contains all the keywords and even approximates the title structure of a Laundry Files novel (that "The Lost Boys Files" in the middle).

Anyway, here are the rules for book titles these days:

  1. Make it memorable and pronouncable for a not-too-lexicographically-aware English speaker. (Avoid creative misspellings, homophones like their/there, anything else that could confuse a reader typing a badly-memorized title into amazon.)

  2. Make it unique. XKCD 936 applies for book titles as well as passwords! Don't violate rule 2 unless you're a big name, i.e. enough people will buy anything you write to keep you from starving. Or you're feeling vindictive. (You may want to look up the other book titled "Saturn's Children" ... but please don't buy it new, I don't want to encourage John Redwood, okay?)

  3. Have a series title waiting in the wings, even if you're not writing a series. ("The Atrocity Archive" was a short stand-alone. Then "The Jennifer Morgue" was the middle volume of a trilogy. Approximately a million words later, I wised up.)

  4. While your snappy, unique title is the lede, feel free to add a colon or semi-colon separated list of potential series titles and cover blurbs, so that folks searching Amazon for Regency-setting dragon shifter hentai romance with talking starships will still be able to find your novel even if they've never heard of you. In an ideal world the searchable title on Amazon should contain the entire text of the book: failing that, we can but include a tantalizing taster.

  5. No title is guaranteed to survive contact with the realities of corporate marketing policy.

Final footnote: "Lost Boys", or whatever it's ultimately titled, is not really the tenth Laundry Files novel, even if it's marketed as such. Current plans call for it to be followed by two final Laundry novels (the Senior Auditor's workplace journal, and then a final Bob story), with a second Lost Boys novel sandwiched between them. If it all goes according to plan (spoiler: it won't, this is me speculating about what I'll be doing five years hence), there'll a third one after that. Set during CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN under the rule of the New Management, but having nothing to do with the Laundry, "Lost Boys" is free to get away from the pervasive, claustrophobic assumption that of course the civil service spooks are trying to do the right thing, which has become an increasingly onerous constraint on the series in recent years. I started writing the Laundry Files prior to 9/11, extraordinary rendition, the war on terror, and the Manning and Snowden revelations: we're now living in a very different (and much darker) world than the one I started out in, and if the Laundry Files has an overarching theme, it would be about the loss of innocence that comes with age and experience.

20 May 16:41

T.M.I. (Too Many Ingredients)

by evanier

A rerun from June 5, 2010…

Mock me if you will but I like foods that are kinda plain. To me, a hamburger is meat, bun, ketchup and maybe some onions — no cheese, no lettuce, no tomato, no chili, no mustard, no dressing, no nothing extra. Baked potato? Butter and sometimes not even that. Hot dog? Mustard only. Pizza? Cheese is fine. Maybe some mushrooms and/or meatballs.

You would not believe the condescending sneers you sometimes get from people who think there's something wrong with you as a human being if you don't like all sorts of excess, experimental things on your dinner. Or the number of waiters and waitresses who think you can't possibly mean that you want the chicken without the chutney-mango guacamole smeared all over it.

Actually, my servers have gotten better about this since I learned to make a funny issue out of these things when I order. Nowadays if you eat with me, you're likely to hear something like this…

ME: I would like the pulled pork sandwich but without the cole slaw.

SERVER PERSON: You don't want any cole slaw on the sandwich?

ME: I don't want any cole slaw on the plate. I don't want any cole slaw on the table. I don't want any cole slaw in the restaurant. You see those people at the next table eating cole slaw? Go take it away from them and tell the manager to remove it from the menu. If you can do something about banning it from this state, I'd be so appreciative, I might even tip.

Understand that I don't expect them to actually remove cole slaw from the menu or the state, though either would be nice. I just say stuff like that because I want them to remember that the large guy at table 8 really, really doesn't want cole slaw. About 90% of the time, this works whereas when I used to merely specify "no cole slaw," I'd almost always wind up with cole slaw…and a server who'd swear on some blood relative's life I said no such thing.

It's a problem I have with most restaurant meals, especially in new eateries. Between my food preferences and my food allergies, I'm always cross-examining the waitress and asking that they leave something out. Sometimes, they can't.

I long ago gave up ordering tuna fish sandwiches in restaurants because to me, a tuna fish sandwich is tuna, mayo or Miracle Whip, two slices of some non-exotic bread…and nothing else. Most places will leave off the tomato, lettuce, arugula, alfalfa sprouts, vinegarette dressing, cole slaw, etc. that their sandwich maker likes to heap onto the bread but they can't do much about what's already mixed into their tuna salad: Celery, chopped olives, Dijon mustard, onion, dill, cottage cheese, chopped avocado and so on.

ingredients

The add-ins were not the problem. If they want to do that to perfectly good tuna fish, that's their right. My problem was the vast number of times I'd ask, "What do you put in your tuna salad?" and the person taking my order would say, "Just mayo." And then when the sandwich came, it would have chopped chili peppers or live caterpillars or something blended in. So I gave up on public tuna salad. I only eat what I make. In an upcoming post, I'll tell you how I do this…and believe it or not, I have something to complain about there, too.

For now, I just want to say: There are new moves across the country to force restaurants to divulge nutritional info on their menus. I'm not completely comfortable with this being mandated by law…though the info itself is welcome. Wouldn't you like to know before you order the Bistro Shrimp Pasta at Cheesecake Factory that a single serving contains 2,285 calories and contains 73 grams of fat and more sodium than they have in Utah?

But what I'd really like to see more restaurants do is tell you what's in what you're ordering and what can be omitted. I'd like to know before I decide that the turkey meatloaf comes in a sauce made out of the contents of old Lava Lamps and that the stuffed salmon is stuffed with teriyaki-flavored Soylent Green. It's pretty awful but it's better than cole slaw…

14 May 16:05

Debating the far right

by chris

The far right has been defeated. Andrew Neil’s interview with Ben Shapiro and Andrew Marr’s with Nigel Farage have exposed both men as shifty, vacuous and evasive. Their support will therefore disappear. What took the might of the Red Army in 1941-45 has today been achieved by two ageing Scotchmen.

Or not. For one thing these episodes won’t weaken the far right’s resolve. Farage is playing the victim card. “We are not just fighting the political class, but the BBC too” he says. Sure, his opponents think his interview was a disaster but his sympathizers don’t: Andrew Lilico called it his “best ever.” Such reactions demonstrate the pervasiveness of asymmetric Bayesianism – that we interpret evidence to corroborate our priors.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, many of our political views – by no means just those on the right – were formed sub-rationally. And as Jonathan Swift said, “reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired." This is especially the case if the protagonists are debating in bad faith. Farage-0-image-a-1_1466076152222

Now, many of you will object to this that whilst such interviews and debates might not persuade rightists themselves, they might help turn neutrals away from the movement. I’m not convinced, and not just because Marr and Neil are only watched by a handful of politics nerds.

One issue here is that defeating rightists in debate is like playing whack-a-mole; even if you knock one down, another pops up. It’s generally agreed that Nick Griffin made a fool of himself on Question Time back in 2009, and sure enough he has since fallen into deserved obscurity (although the BNP did increase its vote in the following year’s general election). But other far-right figures have replaced him, such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

There’s an analogy here with snake-oil sellers. Even when reason and evidence did show that a particular product was inadequate, customers did not shun snake-oil generally. They simply switched to other sellers instead. As Werner Troesken showed in a fantastic paper (pdf), demand was unaffected by failure.

A second problem is that we’ve no good reason to believe that people are swayed by fact and reason alone. We know that huge numbers of voters are ignorant of basic facts, which makes them credulous about all sorts of daft ideas. We know too that they are swayed by things other than rational argument, such as looks (though in fairness these are unlikely to win Mr Farage much support). Rationality doesn’t just require intelligence. It needs immense self-discipline, which many of (not least me) just do not have – and in the case of politics, have neither the means nor incentive to acquire it.

Which means neutral observers – even assuming there to be such things – are prone to countless cognitive biases. A particularly dangerous one in this context is the mere exposure effect; the more we see or hear something, the more we like it. It’s possible (pdf) then that Andy Dawson is right: “the blanket coverage [Farage and UKIP] have been afforded has directly led to the shifting of the political landscape in Britain.”

What matters here is not just Farage’s personal appearances on TV. It’s also what gets discussed. The more time the BBC devotes to the concerns of the right – ethno-nationalism, anti-“elitism”, Brexit and so on – the more normal people think such debates should be. And conversely, in crowding out other matters, such as the decade-long stagnation in productivity and real wages, these become fringe issues. The agenda matters. And merely debating with the right shifts the agenda onto their terms.

I fear, then, that the right will not be defeated by debate. We must instead pull out the roots of its support. It is surely no accident that right-wing populism has increased around the world at a time of economic stagnation. Reducing its support therefore requires an end to that stagnation. It won’t be done by talk alone.

13 May 15:31

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for May 12, 2019

11 May 13:42

Change UK have given a masterclass in how not to launch a political party

by David Herdson

Their muddled thinking has killed their project

To be wrong once is inevitable, to be wrong twice is unfortunate, to be wrong three times is careless, but to be wrong as many times as Change UK have been is to show all the tactical and strategic awareness of a garden leaf trying to outwit a playful cat. It’s not merely that they keep losing the game; it’s not even that they don’t seem to know how the game’s played; it’s as if they don’t even know that there’s a game on at all.

Time and again, right from the beginning, they have made such basic errors in their thinking, their planning and their execution that if they’re to be remembered by history at all, it will be as an object lesson in how not to launch a political party.

We could list dozens of their mistakes but let’s keep it to seven of the bigger ones, as a demonstration of where they went wrong.

1. They failed to organise as a party at or shortly after defecting

You only get one chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes. Change fluffed theirs. From the first days, it was clear that the defecting MPs were far more animated by what they were opposed to (Corbyn, Brexit) than what they advocated. As soon as they left their previous parties and created a new group, it should have been clear that there could be no going back and that therefore the only options were to join another pre-existing party or to form one themselves. Having rejected the former option, they needed to define themselves before others defined them. They didn’t.

2. They failed to appoint or elect a leader

Minor parties get little media coverage and need to force their way into news stories and discussions. Having a clear leader who is constantly available, willing and capable of projecting their message is crucial: Change failed to appoint or elect one (and once they did, they might as well have not bothered). British politics has certain parameters parties are expected to conform to. If you ignore them, chances are you’ll be ignored yourself.

3. They failed to give themselves a clear name

Nothing sums up Change UK’s blundering more than the sorry saga of their name. They first picked one – The Independent Group – that said little about what they were for, before dumping what progress they had made with that and switching to Change UK, which also says nothing about what they stand for or against, yet still tagged on their previous name in a made-by-committee composite.

Their Twitter handle has changed so often that it’s hard even for interested politics watchers to keep track and their website is registered under the unintuitive voteforchange.uk . Remarkably, if you type changeuk.org.uk into your browser, you’ll be redirected to the Lib Dems.

Contrast all this with Nigel Farage’s new vehicle, The Brexit Party – which implies all you need to know about it in about a second. Change could have taken a leaf out of the same book and called themselves the Remain Party and so tried to appropriate to themselves that generic mantle. Alternatively, if they wanted something with a longer shelf-life, the Centre Party would have defined where they stood in the political spectrum.

4. They failed to recruit members and build a movement

By chance, Change had a massive opportunity to build a political movement. Not long after they launched, a petition was registered on the government website demanding that Article 50 be revoked, which gathered an extraordinary six million signatures. These people should have been Change’s target voters and the coincidence of timing, plus the fact that no party was offering Revoke, meant that Change could and should have built a movement around that premise. Had they ridden the wave, they probably could have recruited tens, if not hundreds of thousands of supporters and members, as well as millions in donations and subscriptions. They failed to do anything.

5. They failed to establish a niche political position

New or small political parties need to offer something different: Change UK doesn’t. Following on from the point above, the obvious one was to move outright to Revoke, which is beyond what either the Lib Dems or Greens advocate (although the Lib Dems are getting there now). Sure, it would have been criticised by Brexiteers and others as undemocratic but if you’re worried about criticism, keep your head down and don’t defect. As an aside, going straight for Revoke and the 6m petitioners would have put huge pressure on the Lib Dems to follow suit, and on Labour to move more assertively to Remain, which would of itself have demonstrated their power and relevance, as well as advancing their cause.

6. They failed to contest the local elections

Having messed up on points 1-5, not contesting the local elections was probably a blessing. A lack of candidates, policies or organisation would probably have led to a smattering of poor results and an embarrassing contrast with the Lib Dems. At least this way no-one noticed. But a political party that doesn’t contest elections (they’re not standing in Peterborough either), is about as useful as a radio that doesn’t produce sound. On the other hand, if they’d got the earlier organisation right, they could have not only blunted (or prevented) the Lib Dem recovery but could have made themselves one of the stories of the night and then next few weeks.

7. They’ve failed to play the media game

Change UK seem to have the view that the world owes them a hearing. It doesn’t. Minor parties literally need to make the news if they want to be on it. Partly that’s about proactively badgering broadcasters and publishers that they want to be on but also it’s about putting on media stunts. Again, Farage knows what he’s doing there. Similarly, Caroline Lucas for the Greens has no trouble generating publicity for herself and her party by less orthodox methods, for example deliberately being arrested at demonstrations. Obviously, you need to play to your audience but the point is that far more politics happens beyond Westminster than Change is willing to accept or embrace.

What the MPs of Change UK failed to recognise – and to a large extent, still fail to recognise – is that they crossed a Rubicon when they left their former parties. By forming a new party, they are in direct competition with Labour and the Lib Dems (never mind the ill-will both parties have reason to bear, the former for the defection of the turncoats; the latter for them having rejected a direct defection). They are fishing in the same pools and cannot expect to be treated as fellow travellers in a common cause. That failure of understanding was amply demonstrated by Change blaming Labour (who are defending the seat) for reminding a proto-Remain alliance that Labour would actively campaign against the independent candidate the Remain parties wanted to back. Campaigning against your opponents is what you do in an election and what you can reasonably expect your opponents to do to you.

Where should Change UK go from here?

Trying to discern Change’s intended strategy from their actions is probably about as useful as looking for hints to Gaussian mathematics in a bowl of porridge. If they’d launched their party with flair and dynamism, they might well be in the mid-teens in the polls now. That might sound excessive but they peaked at 18% with YouGov in the week after they launched (three times the Lib Dem score, and against a 36% Con share – much has changed since February). Suppose they’d been able to sweep up much of the 6m Revoke vote: it could have been them rather than the Lib Dems making big gains at the local elections. In the medium term they could realistically hope to either replace the Lib Dems outright (in the same way that the Brexit Party will almost certainly replace UKIP), or to bargain for a merger from a position of strength, marrying Lib Dem experience, data and activists with Change support and members. That cannot now happen: they have nothing to trade.

Instead, their future must either take them out of politics altogether or into an existing party, which has to be the Lib Dems. Their initiative has ground to a halt through its own lack of momentum. Who would now join them, either in parliament or as activists and members? What purpose do they serve?

Change UK’s multiple failures, which of themselves must be hugely off-putting for potential recruits, have left them with no voice and no future. Given the difficulties and divisions within Labour and the Tories, there is still plenty of scope for realignment within Britain’s politics. To the extent that Change has any role in that, it is purely as a cautionary tale as to how not to do it.

David Herdson

04 May 10:56

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for May 04, 2019

29 Apr 19:37

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 29, 2019

29 Apr 19:36

The Book That Refused To Be Written (3)

by Andrew Rilstone
At least four Jesuses stand between us and the text of Mark's Gospel. 

There is Sunday School Jesus the luminous man who lives in the sky and is a friend to little children. 

There is Composite Jesus, stitched together out of the four contradictory Gospels. 

There is Folklore Jesus, who was born in a stable, liked cherries and hurt his little hand while his step-dad was teaching him woodwork. 

And there is Theological Jesus, of one being with the father, begotten not created, with two natures in hypostatic union. 

These Jesuses are not necessarily wrong or bad. But we know them so well that we see them before, or instead of, the Jesus that Mark writes about. We read a passage in which Jesus is firey or even bad-tempered; and we see a gentle Jesus of pure compassion. We read a story whose whole structure depends on a single journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, and say "They really went back and forwards between Judea and Jerusalem three times". We read a clear story in which God's spirit comes down on the man Jesus, and immediately start talking about Trinitarian formulas which weren't going to be codified for another three hundred years.

Here is a commentary I found online, talking about the Baptism of Jesus:

The earliest heretics took advantage of this statement to represent this event as the descent of the eternal Christ upon the man Jesus for personal indwelling. Later critics have adopted this view. But it need hardly be said here that such an opinion is altogether inconsistent with all that we read elsewhere of the circumstances of the Incarnation, and of the intimate and indissoluble union of the Divine and human natures in the person of the one Christ, from the time of the "overshadowing of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Highest." 


The first thing to know about the baptism story is how it can be forced to fit in with orthodox theological idea, and how people who assume that it says what it means are heretics. The second thing to know is how it can be harmonized with the other Gospels. The idea that we might read the story as a story hardly even occurs to us. 

By all means let's talk about the Jesus of the hymns and the legends; let's listen to the theologians explaining the hard bits in technical language; by all means let's think up some continuity hacks so that all the Gospels tell exactly the same story. We've been at it for seventeen hundred years; we are hardly likely to stop now.

But Mark's Gospel exists. And it is very old: older than any of the hymns or the creeds. Someone chose to write these exact words in this exact order, as opposed to some different words in a different order. Someone thought that these stories about Jesus, told in these forms, were the ones people needed to hear. And the Very Ancient Christians chose to preserve his text, and the Slightly Less Ancient Christians put them into the Bible, and the Early Modern Christians translated it into English and the Wycliffe Bible Translators are still working very hard to translate it into Ngbugu. 

So shouldn't we be at least a bit interested in what actually Mark said? 

Folk Lore Jesus, Synthetic Jesus and Theological Jesus are all defensible; even necessary. But there are also Indefensible Jesuses; Jesuses who don't so much overshadow the text as replace it. 

There is Political Jesus, the one who preached a very definite programme and who calls on us to bring about a thing called The Kingdom in our own age. The Political Jesus who agrees with my politics—the one for whom the Kingdom primarily meant the post 1945 socialist welfare state—is a lot more dangerous than the Political Jesus who preached Victorian Values and the Political Jesus who preached American exceptionalism. 

Very nearly as bad is Moral Jesus, Jesus the Good Example. If you are ever faced with a dilemma—if it ever becomes hard to see what is right and what is wrong—then whistle a merry tune, ask "What Would Jesus Do?" and everything will be okay. 

And of course, the History departments still produce Historical Jesuses by the sackful. Mark got Jesus wrong; the church fathers got Mark wrong; the modern church got the fathers wrong, but don't worry an academic in an American university can infallibly takes us back to what the True and Original Jesus really said.

Enoch Powell was quite right. (*) You can't possibly go from "Jesus supernaturally created food for 5,000 of his followers" to "Jesus would have supported my food bank policy but opposed your universal income idea." You can't get from "Jesus supernaturally healed sick people" to "Jesus would have supported the National Health Service but opposed mandatory private insurance schemes". And when faced with a hard choice—"Should I tell the truth, which will hurt a number of people unnecessarily; or tell a lie, which will trap me a series of deceptions for years to come?—then "Jesus was compassionate" is no help at all. Followers of Moral and Political Jesus general have the same morals and political beliefs as everyone else of their age and class. They are just a bit more insufferable about them.

Historical Jesus is more of a problem. I have heard too many Christians saying "Oh, you historians! You just make up whatever version of Jesus you like! The Historical Jesus industry is just a matter of looking into a mirror!" This is unfair and anti-intellectual. Your actual historian isn't in the business of making stuff up. She has a very large amount of actual historical data at her fingertips. She can't tell us if Jesus was the Messiah of Judaism. That isn't an historical question. But she can tell us a very great deal about what Jews at the time of Jesus understood the word "Messiah" to mean. (SPOILER: Lots of different things.) 

The Historians Jesus, so long as we are talking about actual Historians, I have no problem with. The bigger menace is the Historical Novelist's Jesus. 

I am not thinking mainly of Dan Brown. Dan Brown made up a lot of silly tosh in order to spin a good yarn. Spinning a good yarn is his job. I am not even thinking of things like The Last Temptation of Christ, Stand Up For Judas, or Jesus Christ Superstar all of which made selective use of the Gospel stories to create deliberately provocative works of art. Heck, I even defended Jerry Springer the Opera, up to a point. 

I am thinking much more of people like the Rev. Giles Fraser, who tells us that the Last Supper was "really" a provocative act of resistance against the Roman Empire. People like Simcha Jacobovici who asserts that the Gospels plainly state that Jesus was married to someone he calls "Mary of Magdela." The legions of well-meaning 1960s clergymen who said that Resurrection meant nothing more than "the disciples carried on trying to follow Jesus' teaching after he had died." I am thinking of Miss Govey who, who wouldn't have known what the words "radical" and "modernist" meant, but who quire happily told her class of ten-year-olds that everyone was so moved when that little boy shared his packed lunch to Jesus that all five thousand of them shared their packed lunches as well, so everybody got some. So we should share our packed lunches as well: that is the point of the story. People, in short, who have replaced the stories in the Gospels with different stories of their own. 

Maybe Jesus was a revolutionary. He might have been. Maybe the great Signs were just conjuring tricks with moral messages behind them. They could have been. Maybe the whole thing about Jesus having supernatural powers was a terrible misunderstanding and he was really just a goody-goody who wanted everyone to share their stuff. Maybe so. But that is not what Mark believed. Or, at any rate, that is not what Mark put in his Gospel. The Historical Novelist's Jesus produces a weird kind of cognitive dissonance. Intelligent people read about exorcisms and resurrections and the sky splitting open and then they say "Jesus lived such an exemplary life that after he died his followers started to use words like 'son of god' to describe him." It's a bit like watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail and coming away convinced that you've seen a fairly accurate recreation of the life of a sixth century Romano-British war-band. 

*

My mother loved to tell a story about a Labour Party meeting in the 1980s. It was the time when a far-left cadre, led by an activist named John Lansman, was trying to take over party machinery, much to the dismay of the moderate old guard, who regarded them as Trotskyites. (It could never happen today.) 

On one occasion, after a particularly acrimonious session, an elderly invited speaker stood up to recount some of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. 

"We have heard much tonight about what Trotsky said" he began. "I will now tell you what Trotsky said to me." 

That's what we would love to have: not what Jesus said, but what Jesus said to me.

Some time in the middle of the second century, a Christian named Papias wrote that he didn't hold with this new-fangled idea of writing the story of Jesus down. In his day, you would find some very old person who remembered someone who remembered what one of the original disciples had told them about Jesus and get them to repeat the story. "The living and abiding voice" he called it. We'd call it oral tradition.  

Eusebius (the fourth century historian) says that Papias said that some of those very old people said that Peter had told Mark what he remembered of Jesus, and that Mark had written it down. (I make that five links in the chain: from Peter to Mark to the very old people to Papias to Eusebius.) Some people have seized on this idea and said that Mark's Gospel is the memoirs of Peter, pure and simple, an old fisherman spewing out fifty-year-old memories, as close to the Original Jesus as it is possible to get. "Mark" is merely an amanuensis, scribbling down the Elder's memories with a quill and a parchment. But I find it hard to imagine that a first-person eye-witness account could ever have been presented in such a simple, colourless form. It doesn't read like a memoir; it doesn't read like a folk tale. It reads more like a liturgy or a creedal statement. A recitation. 

I have an idea.

Almost certainly it is a silly idea. Very likely someone who has done a thesis on Aramaic story telling is laughing at me right now. But it describes something of how reading the New Testament feels. To me: 

Here is my idea.

Mark is a crib sheet. 

Mark is summary of the basic stories which a story teller needs in his repertoire. 

Mark is a skeleton which subsequent evangelists are intended to flesh out. 

Mark is a structure for future reciters of the story to follow. 

When Mark, toga and sandals and all, performed his gospel to an eager audience of Christian children, sometime in the eighth decade of the first millennium, he didn't speak the exact words of "Mark's Gospel". He tried to paint a picture. He tried to make it vivid in the audience's mind. And he tried to explain what some of the harder passages meant. How did the Adversary tempt Jesus? How did Jesus respond? What was the doctrine which so amazed the people of Capernaum? How could John possibly have been so presumptuous as to try and wash away the sins of the actual Son of God? Some of the elaboration would have come from a store of folk memories and oral traditions. Some of them he would have made up on the spot. That's how story telling works.

And the compilers of the Bible knew this. And they wanted us to know it as well. So they provided us with the text of Mark—his notes, his outline. But they also provided us with a transcript of two performances based on Mark's outline.

The first performance weaves pages and pages of the most beautiful preaching into Mark's story. Everyone on earth knows about the lilies of the field and turning the other cheek. The other gives us a glimpse of Jesus' childhood, and works in the most amazing parable-stories. Everyone on earth knows the story of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. 

Could it be any clearer? "Here is Matthew's recitation. Read that first. Now, here is the script he was working from. Read that next. Now see what Luke did with the same material. And if you want to see just how way-out some performances can be, get a load of what John did to it. Now take it and run with and tell it your own way. That's what it's for. A living story, not a dead text." 

That's my idea. Ridiculous. 


My starting point for this essay was "What would happen if I pretended to read Mark's Gospel for the first time?" 

I assumed that I would say "Some of the stories are not as we remember them; in some cases Jesus does things which are not the kinds of things which we imagine Jesus doing. And there are some more obscure tales that we have forgotten altogether." 

Before I got to the end of the first page, I realized that my conclusion would have to be "It is not possible to read Mark's Gospel for the first time. My religious and theological and cultural assumptions about Jesus have crowded Mark's character out of the text." 

But it was always a silly question. We say that we "read" Mark; and we also say that we "read" Edgar Rice Burroughs and George Eliot and A.A Milne. But we are not really talking about the same process. Middlemarch and Jungle Tales of Tarzan are both books. A good book and a bad book perhaps, but the same kind of thing. The long novel has depth and complexity and seriousness and importance, while the short adventure story is a short adventure story. But I read Tarzan to find out what happens next; to get to know the characters; to be excited, surprised, amused and moved; to feel happy and sad; to pretend that some made up people are real people. And I read Middlemarch for pretty much the same reasons.

But the idea of "reading" Mark in the same way that I "read" Tarzan is absurd, as absurd as the man who tried to use his guitar in unarmed combat. You might have an opinion about whether disco dancing is better than ballet; but "Which is better, ballet, marmite, or nuclear physics?" doesn't even qualify as a question.

I called this introductory essay "The Book That Refused To Be Written" as a nod to Frank Morrison. I should have called it "The Book That Refused To Be Read". 

And yet, Mark exists. It is a text, made of language. I have it in front of me. I can read it. 

15,000 words. Twenty pages. 

Chapter 1, verse 1, page 963. 


"This is the Good News about Jesus Christ the Son of God..."






(*) Kindly do not take this out of context.

25 Apr 08:15

ChangeUK is learning the hard way that there’s more to running a political party than just getting a few MP defectors

by Mike Smithson

The struggles of the new party

The widely reported problems it is having with its selection of some candidates for the European elections together with the difficulty getting a logo registered are just indications of the teething trouble that ChangeUK is having in its attempt to establish itself as a new political force.

This will likely be amplified a week today in the English local elections which cover almost all the English counties with the exception of London and a couple of other places. The Tories are defending more than 4k seats and the chances that are that this will not be a comfortable night for Mrs May.

From what we can judge so far (and this is all anecdotal) is that the main beneficiaries will be the Lib Dems and the Greens both parties which are fiercely hostile to Brexit. CUK will not be getting any seats because it is not putting up any candidates.

This could be problematical in the CUK efforts to present itself as the main vehicle for the anti Brexit vote. If the Lib Dems and the Greens have taken a few hundred seats as might happen, then they surely will argue that they are the parties of Remain.

    It has barely been noticed that that there is a high degree of cooperation taking place between the Greens and the Lib Dems at a local level in a number of council areas with one party or the other standing aside in wards where they think one of them is in with a chance.

Unless there is something that causes Tory turnout to get back to normal local election levels then the two parties are going to be able to present themselves as the true groupings for anti-Brexit voters.

ChangeUK going AWOL for the biggest set of local elections in the four year cycle of these elections might in retrospect not look smart.

Mike Smithson

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23 Apr 06:37

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 22, 2019

17 Apr 13:06

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 17, 2019

14 Apr 12:47

Nancy by Olivia Jaimes for April 14, 2019

05 Apr 11:21

Today's Video Link

by evanier

Paul Simon, a long time ago, visits Sesame Street. He does not seem all that happy that the young lady has decided to rewrite the lyrics to his song. Hers actually make more sense than his…