Monday, 28 November 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

Friday, 11 November 2016

Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 4.1.2

My latest Star Trek piece is up at Geek Syndicate, and talks about the similarities between Tahna Los and the Kohn-Ma and our very own Nigel Farage and his Purple Fascists.

"I Have Tried, In My Way, To Be Free"

Fourteen years more or less to the day I was doing my diagnostic teaching practice ("diagnostic" basically meaning "determining whether you'll fold more or less immediately upon actually coming in contact with students").  The school I was working at was not an easy one. 26% A*s to C at GCSE, major discipline issues, a catchment area utterly ravaged by Thatcher murdering the mining industry.

I dreaded every day I spent there.

So did the two other trainee teachers I used to hitch a lift with. Every journey into work felt like a vigil. It was the most important time for us to give each other emotional support, and the time at which we felt the most dejected and drained and alone and unable to reach out. We tried, but even working in the same building, there was just too much distance between the specifics of what we were facing.

Then one day Vivienne took her eyes off the road for long enough to grab for a CD.

"Check this out, Ric," she called back to me. "This guy is just so bitter and sarcastic."

The disc went in.

"You'll love him."

And this song started up. And he was, and I did.

Goodbye, Mr Cohen. You helped when we needed helping. Thank you for that.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.17 - "Gone To The Movies" (Semisonic)

This is a difficult day to write, or to think, or to suck in air. It's been less than 30 hours since I woke up yesterday afternoon and reached for my phone to confirm what had seemed more or less inevitable in the early hours of the morning.  Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

There's a Xander quote rolling round my head all the time right now.
  ...First she stopped his heart, then she replaced it with darkness, then she made him live his life like that. But he still had to go do his job and see his friends and wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, but he had to do it all empty. Without anything to look forward to. Ever.
Harris isn't talking about shitty political news, obviously. Still though, the similarity is clear. You go about your day, because you have to go about your day. But something profoundly important just doesn't feel like it's there anymore.

"Gone To The Movies" is a sweet, sad song, and I will never not be in the market for sweet, sad songs. Even the fairly obvious ones. The acoustic guitar picking, the slowly-building swirl of strings, the white guy singing about loneliness - only the defiantly uncool licks of slide guitar can even hope to claim themselves more than cliche. Still, it works because it works.

Besides, it's the lyrics here that matter. It might be one more song about a dude who's lost his girl, but it's also about all the things in his life going on around that loss. It's about standing by the window and noticing that it's leaking. It's about looking around your bedsit flat and realising you never even had the time/space/money to stick a chair in there. It's about knowing your car is on the verge of collapse and having to plan for alternate transport in the morning. Because you've still got work tomorrow, no matter how pointless heading out seems right now.

It's about not being allowed to stop. It's about having to do it all empty.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Blue And The Orange

US Presidental Election 2016 Liveblog

05:37 OK, my friends. I realise that final result hasn't been called, but the news outlets have shifted into speculating about when President Trump will give his victory speech, and I have no interest in sticking around for that. My thanks to those of you who were brave enough to tune into what turned our to be the third live-blog in a row where I - and anyone who isn't a fan of bigotry - got their heads thoroughly handed to them.

Maybe we can still win this. But I'm a probabilist. I recognise the writing on the wall when I see it. I'm going to bed. Everyone be kind to each other. It's the only way that one day. one far off day - more far off than we could have imagined six years ago - that we will finally win.

05:35 (Just, like, 99% fucking appalling.)

05:34 Apparently this election cycle saw the first Lantina woman elected to the Senate. So it isn't all bad.

05:27 (We ALL have skin in the game one way or another, and fuck anyone who says we don't.)

05:26 Clinton wins Nevada. I can't see us winning, but we'll lose well. Small comfort, I know. And that's for a white cis-het man from another country. I can't imagine how horrible this is for people with skin directly in the game.

05:19 Wee bit of good news: Harry Reid's retirement hasn't cost the Democrats a seat.

05:16 Not a great time to be a fan of equality.

05:06 Still on the BBC and fuuuuuuuuuuuuck you for letting someone make a distinction between those who live in coastal states and "ordinary Americans".

05:00 You know, quite aside from anything else, I profoundly resent the fact that so many electorates this year have provided Nigel Farage with a throbbing erection. Or as he calls it, an Iron Eagle.

04:54 At this point we're somewhere between Trump being effectively unstoppable and him actually having taken the Oval. Which would be bad enough, but to make things worse, no-one with access to a microphone has any idea has it happened. It would be nice to think that out of this calamitous disaster, the Left could forge a new alliance, but I don't even see that happening. We're still too busy dealing with Leftists who manage somehow to still be racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or ableist.

We don't deserve to win. Our enemy, of course, deserves to win far, far, far less. But apparently that doesn't matter.

04:44 Bear this in mind.

04:38 BBC just said Clinton needs to win a range of races. Misheard that as "range of racists", and frankly, I think that makes more sense.

04:34 Of course, if Trump does win, there's going to be approximately two centuries of experts telling us how it means women can never be president. Or at least there would be, if global anarchy wasn't going to kick of by 2040.

04:32 That probably undersells how close things are. Clinton is behind by seven electoral votes with 425 declared.

04:30 Clinton beats Romney! Not the actual Republican candidate she's up against, but it's a start.

04:20 Keep the faith, my friends! Clinton is only 10 electoral votes from doing better than Mitt Romney!

04:14 Interesting in the abstract to watch someone simultaneously commend logical thinking and condemn those who aren't "plain spoken".

04:12 Someone genuinely just said on the BBC - and this time I've checked that I haven't just gotten too drunk to recognise letters - that Trump isn't far-right. WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE DEFINING AS FAR RIGHT?

04:03 Apparently I've been on ITV for ages. Only found out when Farage showed up and I grabbed for my remote.

04:00 Florida for Trump. Hooray for voter suppression, I guess.

03:56 Let's be clear. There's nothing at all wrong with asking how Melania Trump would handle the responsibility of being First Lady. But when your first comments are about her posing nude and her grasp of English, it's maybe possible that you're not actually part of the solution, grok?

03:47 Trump takes North Carolina, Clinton takes Virginia. Given tonight's results, I think that's a trade Clinton will take.

03:46 Idle thought: I spend a lot of time on my Decision Theory module talking about the difference between relative results and absolute results. Tonight is an absolute triumph for those who can't compare relative positions. "Emails." But calling Mexicans rapists." "Emails." "But insisting on banning Muslims from the country." "Emails". "But literally confessing to sexual assault. "EMAILS".

Again, there are genuine reasons to not be willing to vote for Clinton. But I think we all know those aren't the reasons that has Trump doing so well.

03:37 Hooray for Colorado.

03:36 That said, there's plenty of blame to go around. I have the upmost sympathy for those less privileged than me who felt incapable of voting for Clinton. They knew what they were risking with a Trump administration rather than a Clinton one, and they made that choice. It's not my place to criticise it.

03:34 Watching anti-Trump Republicans on Twitter agreeing this is Clinton's fault. Because Gods forbid they interrogate their own positions.

03:26 Ah. BBC (ITV: I suck) calls Virginia for Clinton. This is still a fight.

03:22 Kudos to the Beeb for choosing a picture of Trump to keep showing that looks like an alpha
orangutan being blown by a gamma orangutan. Small victories at this point.

03:18 We're now onto adultery being equivalent to racism. And yet someone tomorrow will tell me how liberal the BBC is (again: this was ITV).

03:13 That was a lot of capital letters, on reflection. Sorry. I'm a bit on edge.

03:09 HOLY SHIT a Trump shill just got to say on the BBC (edit: it was ITV, and I'm an idiot; still)  that HILLARY CLINTON is suspect for using a charitable foundation to enrich herself. A TRUMP SHILL. We need a new phrase; post-truth politics just doesn't cover it.

03:07 New Mexico called for Clinton. So that's nice. See below RE Brexit Fulcrum.

02:56 "I've been looking so long at these pictures of Trump,
           That I almost believe that's he's real.
           I've been living so long with these pictures of Trump,
           That I almost believe this is one deal he's certain to seal."

02:55 Back to ITV to avoid pictures of Trump.

02:51 It's interesting - or at least it would be interesting were I not gripped with existential terror - that Trump is doing better in blue states than any other Republican has done since the '80s.  I guess the hardliners were right - the best shot for the White House for a Republican is just to be the most obvious racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic (FUCK YOU BLOGSPOT FOR STILL SAYING THAT ISN'T A WORD) anti-intellectual monster possible. It's almost as though fascism needs to be fought rather than ignored...

02:40 The Trump spokesperson on the Beeb just threatened a third party breaking off from the Republican Party if Trump doesn't take the Oval and that's legitimately the best news I've heard since New Hampshire declaring for Clinton which I turned out to have been wrong about anyway.

02:31 Looks like we are rapidly arriving at the Brexit Fulcrum: can the urban areas that take longer to tally counteract the rural counties that have already declared for Trump. Obviously my choice of metaphor gives you some idea of my level of confidence.

02:21 Michigan turning red. That's terrifying.

02:15 And now she's saying southern NY state is in "agonising poverty" because of insufficient fracking. My thing is, if everyone is so keen on grabbing at someone who correctly diagnoses the problem but can't possibly provide a solution, why aren't Marxists the dominant political force?

02:13 A Trump spokesperson on the BBC right now explaining how Trump's big idea is to increase fossil fuel production. Fun times.

02:08 Back to BBC, assuming Farage has been put back in his swastika-shaped hole.

02:03 And New Hampshire too. That's an important result considering the earlier vacillating.

02:00 Illinois goes to Clinton. The exact opposite of a surprise, once more.

01:59 I don't want to depress people any more than they already are given how close things are, but even if Clinton wins tonight - and I still think she will - this strikes me as evidence that the White House will probably belong to the Republicans in four year, and will definitely be theirs in eight. The desire to punish the not-we is simply too strong.

01:47 But then ITV has a Trump supporter talking about how the GOP needs to bring in the liberally-minded. Which is depressing as all hell. And yes, I realise there is no shortage of liberals who are also racist to fuck, but that just makes it all worse.

01:45 No, BBC. Nigel Farage is an immediate red card.

01:42 Not going well for the Democrats attempt to take the Senate, and the Republicans keep the House, because why would we ever have anything nice?

01:37 Where is Times Square getting its data from?

01:33 (I may be drifting off the subject.)

01:32 YES YES YES. He also had a beard. But being less scrupulous than Hitler in maintaining your facial fuzz can hardly be considered a point in your favour.

01:31 I'm being unfair. I am totally open to input from fascist-friendly Christians sporting toothbrush mustaches. Because how could that possibly go wrong?

01:27 Apparently the problem here is that insufficient people have accepted Jesus. Good to know, BBC.

01:26 When I went - pre-interview - to discuss the job I'm currently doing with the man I am currently doing it for, he kept having to correct himself. He kept saying "You will have to - that is, the candidate will have to...". That's what the BBC commentators sound like every time they let slip the fact they don't think Trump has any real chance.

01:17 Texas isn't going to go blue, obviously. But still, that's pretty funny.


01:13 Finally, South Carolina declares for Trump. So obviously, fuck South Carolina (standard caveats regarding non-Trump voters apply). As I said, though, the amount of time that took is instructive.

01:09 Data now showing Texas leaning Trump. In more surprising news, data also shows the Tower of Pisa is leaning towards the ground.

01:07 The projected results for the eastern states look like they've been determined by tossing a coin handed to an idiot by an obscure trickster god.

01:05 Durham County is going to get its voting extension. Unambiguously the right decision. I look forward to Republicans explaining why it represents the death of democracy.

01:03 OK. That didn't suck. Not seeing any surprises in the slew of new results, though.

00:58 Oh, that's a good question from Person McBBC. Why are Latinx voters so united against Trump when they have such diverse interests and priorities? Answer: because Trump is a racist toss-stain, and that takes priority.

00:57 Chat right now about the Hispanic turnout tipping the election. Please please PLEASE let that be true. I'll donate an organ for this to be true. Take a kidney. It's black and withered and stinks of Strongbow anyway, so...

00:51 Always a bleak kind of fun in watching Republicans trying to argue that somehow Trump doesn't represent his party, after he won the nomination and has already won almost 5% of the electoral votes of the entire damn country.

00:49 Plus the Guardian is now suggesting Clinton is in contention in South Carolina. That's approaching a Red Wedding level of betrayal.

00:47 For the Brexit-burned, it's worth pointing out that by this stage in the count (with due adjustments for the difference in kind) the BBC talking heads were much, much more cagey about Remain's chances than they are right now about Clinton.

00:45 New Hampshire now leaning Democrat.

00:39 Why not just interview Dracula and ask whether he thinks enough nubile virgins are being offered up to vampires?

00:38 Oh goody. An interview with a Trump supporter on the BBC. And guess what? He's furious that immigrants are getting all the money.

00:33 Quick congress update: Democrats ahead in both declared Senate and House races.

00:31 West Virginia called for Trump. Another unsurprising result - I've not forgotten how badly Obama bombed there back in 2008. Anyone else remember that Daily Show interview with a WV native? "I don't like that Hussein thing. I've had ENOUGH of Hussein!"

00:28 Shit, the TV only wants to talk about Florida too. Mainly they're saying Trump is in trouble down there, though, so it could be worse.

00:27 Not even the news can keep up with Florida at this point. I shall try to find something else to talk about accordingly.

00:24 BBC has seen sense and is using an actual upstanding map for the electoral college. As always, the Republicans win Blockbusters, but Clinton has the edge.

00:23 Florida once again leaning Trump. I hate you Florida.

00:20 And now Florida is leaning towards Clinton. This is, in case it wasn't already obvious, going to be a very long night.

00:17 Virginia leaning Democrat. That's good news for Silver and Wang's models, and for, you know, humanity.

00:16 Though that said, Dan has a good point in comments: South Carolina not calling for the Republicans already is unusual, from what I dimly recall.

00:14 Trump leading in Florida right now is not brilliant news. It's early days, obviously, but I'm more worried by Florida than I am reassured by Georgia.

00:11 ITV interviewing the Khans, and starting with Mrs Khan. Assuming she's happy to do so, that's fucking brilliant.

00:07 (All my apologies and sympathies and solidarity to those in Indiana and Kentucky who didn't vote for Trump. I've lived my entire life in safe seats for the less evil major party. I can't imagine how hideous it must be to lumbered with the electorate you all have to suffer.)

00:06 Actual results. Indiana and Kentucky go Trump, and Vermont Clinton. None of these are surprising given both historical context and statistical models. Even so, it's important to say: fuck you, Kentucky. Fuck you, Indiana. You voted for a fascist, and not even a smart one.

00:01 Haq just said "It helps to have Tim Kaine", which is surely the first time anyone has ever said that, ever, including at a Time Kaine-lookalike contest.


23:55 Back on ITV for more chat about everyone hating Clinton. Apparently the Obama's campaigning for her is evidence of her weakness, as oppose to the Bush's not campaigning for Trump being evidence that he's utterly unacceptable even to his own party's bigwigs.

23:49 Fucking hell. I hope my earlier joke has only been rendered in horrible taste, and not actively prophetic. I hope everyone injured makes a full recovery.

23:45 Talking head (keep missing the names) on BBC1 talking about the college-educated/non college-educated split in Wisconsin being the greatest recorded (in modern times? Not sure). Never found a way to comment on that kind of thing without sounding like an unbearable elite with rooms in the the most gleaming of ivory towers, but I thought I'd pass it on.

23:40 How do you talk about people voting for Trump because they're sick of rich people playing to different rules and not address the paradox?

23:38 Almost forty minutes into the election coverage before Benghazi got its first name-check. You can tell I live outside the US.

23:37 There are plenty of reasons to be massively anti-Clinton on purely policy ground, obviously. But that's clearly not what's going on in general.

23:36 Good to see someone blame anti-Clinton animus on sexism.

23:31 Reports of people being turned away from the polls in Florida illegally. Not to worry, though. Florida's not a big college town.

23:29 The BBC virtual map is desperately unimpressive. Just put a map up, for God's sake. You don't need a guy looking like he's standing on the damn thing.

23:24 Indiana too, though again this is in the "unsurprising category". First talking head on BBC1 taking time out to tell us that the Trump voters she's met have been intelligent and thoughtful people who don't like what he says on immigrants, but are desperate enough to roll the dice on him. Not mentioned: they're not the people who'll be screwed over if the dice come up snake eyes.

23:22 I'm not saying New Hampshire going for Trump is astonishing. But I am saying that if it does call for Trump, there are a number of other battleground states that are very likely to be Trump's too.

23:20 Early results looking good for Trump in Kentucky and New Hampshire.  The first was entirely predictable. The second, not so much.

23:15 Flicking over to BBC1 whilst ITV are on a break, and "Election Night In America" turns out to be an episode of Room 101. Which is either a catastrophic scheduling fuck-up or the most profound comment on the American election Auntie Beeb has managed yet.

23:14 (American money, I mean. Not our British money that doesn't have value any more.)

23:13 Not sure Trump has the semiotic depth to possess themes, but otherwise Haq is right on the money here.

23:12 Oh, how nice. An actual American gets to comment (YES I AM AWARE OF THE IRONY) and they immediately nail Trump for being a filthy racist.

23:11 Wow. Apparently the issue is Trump's threat to the current political system. Not, for instance, to people who aren't white.

23:10 Still on ITV. Amazing to hear so many talking heads talk about this being an abnormal election and yet none of them are willing to admit that's because Trump is a fascist.

23:05 ITV are reporting a higher than expected minority turnout. One wonders who was expecting fewer non-white people to show up to tell Trump to go screw himself.

23:04 Excellent. UK terrestrial TV has begun its coverage. This will give me plenty of material.

23:01 Right then. First polls closed.

22:52 The Guardian is reporting - with appropriate caution - that turnout seems to comparable to 2012, and that this is liable to be good news for Clinton. They don't say why, but I assume the logic is that a depressed turn-out would suggest Democratic fatigue, and a decent turn-out is unlikely to mean people who didn't vote for Romney are desperate to vote for Pussy-Grab Magoo.

22:46 (I know. As a joke that's both cliche and cheap. I just get instinctively annoyed about a country that trumpets its commitment to democracy but insists on doing it on the cheap.)

22:45 Reports of issues with voting/registers now not just in Durham County NC but also in Colorado. If only the US was one of those rich countries that could afford a robust and efficient voting system, huh?

22:35 I see FOX has turned to "Mr Brexit" in their coverage, hoping to gain magical powers from their proximity to an inexpertly-carved mahogany dildo possessed by Satan's stupidest nephew.

22:27 (That's funny because you will never see that much yellow on a political map of Britain again, ever.)

22:26 CNN calling a surprising number of states for the Lib Dems.

22:17 Lindsey Graham, too. A man who would vote for the Babadook if it promised to only scare Muslims decides Trump is just a step too far.

22:16 Political analogy of the decade, there.

22:15 Rather indecently amused by a spokesperson confirming George W Bush didn't vote for Trump. That's like Hordak finding out Skeletor won't help out with fighting She-Ra.

22:10 Maybe adding R's is just Donald's thing. Maybe he thought he'd been secretly working for Usher all this time. Though given Usher's skin-tone, probably not.

22:09 Apparently Trump has jimmied the lock on the safe his people put his phone in and has begun tweeting once more. Already he's insisting there are problems with voting machines across the country, based on a CNN report. The CNN report was referring to a single county.

22:05 So far the biggest surprise on election day is that there's no sign anyone has been shot at the polls by armed Trump "observers". That doesn't erase how horrifically successful the Republicans have been at suppressing the "wrong people's" ability to vote, of course. And yes, the "wrong people" are exactly who you think they are.

21:56 (538 might be talking about a historical loss for the Republican candidate, of course, in which case the low-water mark for the modern GOP would be Barry Goldwater against Lyndon B Johnson in '64. Goldwater carried just six states and 52 electoral votes. Of course, he was running against a man who'd stepped up to lead the country after his enormously popular boss had been murdered in Dallas. Trump is running against someone who dares to own a vagina.)

21:52 Addendum to last: obviously just winning the Senate wouldn't mean Clinton's problems would be over. There's still the issue of the filibuster, and the fact that ousting Republicans from control of the House will be exceptionally difficult. 538 suggests that it would require Trump to lose by a historical margin, and when history includes Walter Mondale losing 59 states against Ronald Reagan in '84, that kind of margin really means something, damn it.

21:42 I'll give you a break from the statistics and move into some political noodling. The big issue for most of this cycle wasn't actually whether Clinton would beat Trump - that was always the way to bet, and still is right now. Obviously defeating Trump is crucial, but it wasn't the toughest fight for Democrats. Winning back the Senate was. Without that, there's almost no chance a hypothetical President Clinton can get a damn thing done, given the Republican's clear preference for letting first the federal government and ultimately the entire country collapse over being seen to agree with Democrats on any issue whatsoever.

A little over a fortnight ago on October 23rd, the chances of the Democrats doing that were almost as high as Clinton's own, at 68%. Since then, the chances have collapsed to 52% (both of these stats come from the New York Times). I've heard it said the collapse is mainly and perhaps almost entirely due to the after-effects of the FBI "re-opening" their investigation into Clinton's emails. The result of that almost comically ill-timed announcement (or well-timed, depending on your position, I guess) may well be that Clinton takes the Oval, and can't do a damn thing for at least two years, at which point the Democrats will almost certainly lose ground in the Senate anyway.

Naturally, some people are suggesting this was exactly FBI Director Comey's aim.

21:32 Ah, OK. The argument is about how likely the electoral college estimates are to result in one candidate or the other winning. Wang thinks Clinton is an inevitable winner, Silver thinks she "only" has a 70% chance. There's more here, which also contains an explanation of the limitations of both models. I've only skimmed it, so I won't bet my reputation on it being correct in the details, but the basic problem of such a high number of variables and such an infrequent rate of observations is indeed, well, a problem. Title's bullshit, obviously, but such is par for the course for pop stats articles.

21:24 Here's the prediction from Sam Wang's stable. Not too much difference, beyond not wanting to call North Carolina and a little more certainty about Wisconsin and Washington State breaking for Clinton. Wang and Silver have been showing some interesting differences recently, but if they still have major disagreements as to the result, it's not translating into a quick eyeball of their electoral college predictions.

21:16 Now let's check in on the statisticians. Nate Silver's 538 site offers this forecast of the electoral college. Note that the states not coloured in the previous map are split between Clinton and Trump, but not evenly. More of them are blue than red, and those that are red seem more pale than their blue equivalents. Again, though, these are just different knife-edges of different sharpness, and when the cuts come, their likely to mostly come from the same side.

21:09 Unfortunately, the electoral college polls are a bit less comforting, although Clinton still clearly has the edge. The problem, of course, is that battleground states are not independent - the vast majority of them are likely to all break the same way.

21:04 Let's kick off with the image I've been taking comfort from all day; the final image from the RealClearPolitics aggregate polls for this election cycle. It shows Hillary Clinton having one more good day amidst an almost uninterrupted run of good days since last summer.

21:00 Welcome, everyone, to the blog's quadrennial dive into the ins and outs of the US Presidential Election and the surrounding Senate and House races.  The rules are simple: no abuse, no fascists. Otherwise, have at it in comments. Delighted to have you aboard.

Thursday, 3 November 2016