Dumb Luck for the Win

Oct. 28th, 2016 05:07 pm
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
Feels stupid because I forgot to schedule a Halloween suitable book for review next week,

Picks up next book in the Sponsored Review Stack.

It's about witches.

Halloween is a significant event.

New toys for my ears

Oct. 28th, 2016 10:03 pm
andrewducker: (Default)
[personal profile] andrewducker
I arrived home this evening to discover that my Isolate ear protectors have arrived in time for me to stand next to 30-odd drummers at Samhain.

Fifteen minutes later it turns out that I have one Medium ear and one Small one. And that when I have them carefully positioned in my ear canal I can wear the largest headphones I have, turned to max volume, playing Rock and Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain) and not have it feel too loud.

I'm very happy with my new purchase.

The Amazing Spider-Man #12

Oct. 29th, 2016 09:48 pm
[syndicated profile] andrew_rilstone_feed

Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Unmasked by Doctor Octopus

Doctor Octopus, again

Supporting Cast: 
J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen + a chorus of policemen, firemen, and circus animals.


Peter has replaced the blue and white striped P.Js from Amazing Fantasy #15 with a red pair (which are slightly too short for him.)

Failure to Communicate: Page 6: The caption says that Octopus is at the top of a roller coaster, but the picture clearly shoes a Ferris wheel

Peter Parker's financial situation: If the comics are taking place in real time, the "One year's rent" which Peter paid in issue #2 ran out last month. He thinks J.J.J. will pay "plenty" for the pictures of Doctor Octopus. However, in issue #12 Peter and Aunt May will be bankrupt again, so I think we have to assume that Peter is being optimistic and J.J.J. doesn't pay up for the photos.

Why does J.J.J hate Spider-Man: Instead of accusing him of being a criminal, or blaming him for being a vigilante, J.J.J. this time blames Spider-Man for being an "overrated crime fighter" who carelessly let Doctor Octopus go!

Spins a web, any-size: Spider-Man escapes from the fire by making a "flame proof umbrella for his head" and (even more cleverly) to create web stepping stones to step on while he runs across the burning floor.

Back filling: Stan Lee says that he has fooled us by giving us an unexpected happy ending. But in fact 5 of the last 6 issues have ended on upbeat notes. Because last issue ended on an absolute downer, Stan Lee repositions Spider-Man as "that comic which always has unhappy endings".

"I'm beginning to sound like a teenaged Billy Graham!" The World Trades Fair which ran from April - October 1964 in Flushing Park, (a 20 minute walk from Peter Parker's high school) included a religious movie narrated by the famous preacher. 

"Boy! That Spider-Man is a poor man's Frank Buck!" Frank Buck, author of Bring 'Em Back Alive, was a legendary "collector" of wild animals for zoos and circuses. 

"Not a dream! Not an imaginary tale!" screams the cover. Well, no. Imaginary Tales were always much more of a DC thing than a Marvel thing. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with a story clearly labelled as being outside of normal continuity — one in which Superman can marry Lois Lane, produce a brood of Superkids, or become President of American without irrevocably changing or destroying the comic. They are only perceived as hoaxes and let-downs if the nature of the story is withheld until the last page. "Captain America dreams that he meets John Henry and Paul Bunyan" is a perfectly legitimate idea for a story. "Captain America marries Sharon Carter, but on the final page, wakes up and realizes it was all a dream", not so much.

Amazing Spider-Man #12 is certainly not a dream and definitely not an imaginary tale. It is, however, arguably a hoax.  

The cover is another masterpiece and for once Ditko and Lee are in agreement about the unique selling point of the issue. It's another of Ditko's iconic "crowds staring at Spider-Man" tableaux, except that this time the crowd is staring at Spider-Man having his mask torn off. So far this year, the Brain has nearly guessed Spider-Man's secret identity; Spider-Man has unmasked Electro (no-one special) and the Big Man (not who we expected). Last month, Peter Parker resolved to reveal his identity to Betty Brant, but changed his mind. So this month, almost to complete the cycle, we have Spider-Man being forcibly unmasked in front of his worst enemy. The title of the story is "Unmasked by Doctor Octopus", but Doctor Octopus is the smallest figure on the cover. It's clear from the picture that what the story is really about is "Unmasked In Front of J. Jonah Jameson!

Doctor Octopus escaped last issue, so it shouldn't come as any great surprise that he's back for a rematch. (It evidently did come as a surprise to Stan Lee, who finished last issue with Spider-Man "little dreaming of the new adventures and surprises that await him" — rather than by trailing Doc Ock's return.). It's a curious set-up: not a two part Doctor Octopus story; not even really a Doctor Octopus story and a sequel. It's more like two quite different Doctor Octopus stories, one after the other. Almost as if one creator — let's call him "Steve" — thought Doc Ock should be one of a number of players in a cops and robbers gangster story, and the other — let's call him "Stan" — thought he should be a Lex Luthor figure, brooding in jail about how he was going to get his revenge on Spider-Man if it was the last thing he did. The "Ditko" version springs gangsters out of jail in return for venture capital with which to become head of the Thieves Guild; the "Lee" version" commits crimes simply in order to attract Spider-Man's attention. "Beating Spider-Man" is now Doctor Octopus's only motivation. One might even say that he suffers from the same arachnophobia which afflicts Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson.

And why not? Superman needs his Moriarty, and it might as well be Octavius. 

Last time around, fate — or The Plot, or indeed the writer — had to work very hard to engineer a confrontation between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. This time around, Doctor Octopus has himself taken control of The Plot. He wants to fight Spider-Man because he wants to fight Spider-Man. He commits crimes in order to persuade Spider-Man to come and fight him — and he finally kidnaps Betty and tells Jameson to put out a message informing Spider-Man that he'll let her go if he'll come out and fight with him.

If anyone ever asks you what Stan Lee contributed to Spider-Man, point them towards page 5 of this issue. Octopus is holding Betty Brant in one arm, J.J.J. in a second and Peter in a third…and Jameson delivers the immortal line "Don't just dangle there Parker! Tell him who I am!" "Don't just dangle there, do something" would have been a cliché, reducing Jameson to a Dick Dastardly figure — but "tell him who I am" is a perfectly judged piece of characterization. Jameson is so arrogant that he thinks his name will intimidate a super criminal. It reminds one of Citizen Kane responding to a personal attack by shouting "I'M CHARLES FOSTER KANE!"

It's also very funny.

Rather unhelpfully, Peter Parker shouts "Don't be afraid! Spider-Man will save you!" after Betty as Doc Ock carries her away from her office. But Betty hates Spider-Man. She kinda thinks he sorta killed her brother. She's probably more terrified that the Spider will come and rescue her than that the Octopus will harm her. Don't you remember last issue?

This is the first issue in which the, ahem, web of coincidences is constructed like a farce (although there were comedic elements in issue #5.) Nearly all the plot movement comes from the fact that Jameson and Betty, and Doctor Octopus, and indeed Aunt May and Flash Thompson all know Peter Parker and Spider-Man but believe them to be two different people. The first big wrinkle comes on page 5: Doctor Octopus kidnaps Betty, says that she will be set free if Spider-Man comes to Coney Island alone, adding that Jameson may send one photographer. Immediately, in the same panel, Jameson says "I'll send you, Parker!" Just in case we missed the point, Peter thinks "How can I go as Spider-Man and as Peter Parker?" This is, of course, the solution to the conundrum set on the cover: Parker goes to face Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man, and when he pulls his mask off everyone — the villain, Jameson, Betty and the cops take it for granted that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are two different people — that Parker dressed up as Spider-Man to get a photo. Even better, because he is suffering from a viral infection ("the one thing even (my) spider-strength can't resist!") he has temporarily lost his power.

"It isn't Spider-Man! It's that weakling brat, Peter Parker!"

"Peter!! Oh, he did it for me!! Oh he might have been killed!"

"The fool! I ordered him to take pictures of Octopus— not try to be a hero!"

So what we have her is indeed, not a dream, not an imaginary story — but something more like a shaggy dog story. Doctor Octopus does indeed unmask Spider-Man but everyone takes it for granted that Peter can't be Spider-Man and must be an impostor. It is so perfectly set up — and most readers must work out what is going to happen several frames before we get there — that no-one feels cheated or short-changed. It's a great punch line.

The big unmasking scene happens on page 8; the murder of Bennet Brant happened on page 13 last issue. In both cases there is a sense that the story has peaked too early; that the promise and question of the cover has been answered, and the rest of the episode has to be padded out with a fight scene. One wonders whether, in both cases, Lee dreamed up the premise. ("What if Dr Ock ripped Spider-Man's mask off?") leaving Ditko to spin it out to 21 pages? There is a definite sense that Ditko himself was clutching at straws: first showing Doc Ock, er, releasing all the animals from the zoo, leading to scenes of Spider-Man fighting a gorilla on a flagpole and catching a lion between his legs; and then giving us a prolonged fight in, er, a deserted artists studio, full of gigantic stone angels and 12 foot high faces which catch fire for no particular reason. ("We knocked over the sculptor's cleaning fluid! It's starting a fire!") This allows Spider-Man to demonstrate that he's a proper hero — risking his life to save his enemy when he gets trapped under a statue — and for Doctor Octopus to show that he's a sore loser ("Spider-Man didn't beat me! It was the fire!") And it's a good enough fight scene. But it feels anti-climactic after the set up and resolution of the unmasking.

Spider-Man has spent the last couple of issues being brave and noble; but in the final three frames, Peter Parker goes out of his way to remind us that he is still a total jerk. Bravado which is quite attractive from Spider-Man when he is putting his life on the line ("If all that boasting doesn't tire you out, nothing will!") is deeply unattractive and priggish when Peter uses it on Flash in the school playground. Since their fight, Flash Thompson has, in his awkward, locker-room way, been trying to reach out to Peter Parker. Liz, impressed at his bravery, and obviously trying to make amends for being cruel to him in the past, invites him to a party. Peter rudely turns her down, inventing a fictitious date with Betty Brant. He refers to the confident, successful career-woman who has just been through an utterly terrifying experience as "a certain little brunette" and implies he can take her on dates without asking her first. He goes on to call Flash far worse names than Flash ever called him. ("I know how boring it must be to have to use all those one syllable words when you talk to him! You deserve each other!") And finally — unbelievably — after a week which has seen his wonderful friend Betty tragically bereaved and terrifyingly kidnapped he announces that "things are finally looking up for my favourite couple of guys—namely, me!" This is clearly the voice of the Peter Parker who told the policeman that he was going to look out for number one from now on. 

I fear that no irony is intended. Stan Lee is telling us that being priggish and rude to the Flash Thompsons and Liz Allens of this world is an appropriate way for us geeks to behave. Being rude to them when they try to be nice to you counts as a happy ending. Because us nerdy comic book readers are better than football players, and should never forget it.

It wasn't a good lesson for Spider-Man fans to pick up from the comic, but pick it up many of us did.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

We’ve all seen the reports, an endless line up of people attempting to scare the bejabbers out of us. 45% of jobs will be wiped out by robots within 30 years, that sort of thing. We’re always left with the impression that 45% of us will therefore be searching an economic wasteland for something to do with our lives, some method of earning a crust. The thing is that technological change simply doesn’t work that way. We don’t all trundle along for 29 years and 364 days as fine as we are and then the next day find that 45% of us are unemployed. Nor does something like the introduction of the driverless truck mean that tomorrow all 4 million truck drivers are unemployed. These things are processes, not events. For example, Uber just made the first driverless truck delivery this past week. And yet there will be just as many truck drivers in employment on Monday as there are today to any interesting level of accuracy.

I’ve pointed out a number of times that there can be no problem with the end state. It is axiomatic that human desires and wants are unlimited, the resources we have to satisfy them scarce. Human labour is one of those scarce resources. Thus if the robots do some of the work for us then there is always some other human desire or need that the displaced labour can go off and attempt to sate. As I’ve also said the output of the tractor, which automated farming, is the health care system. When we needed 95% of the population on the farm we couldn’t have 15% of the population in health care. Tractors free people from the land, allowing us to build and staff hospitals ‘n’stuff.

When the robots do what we do now we’ll just do something else. No, I don’t know what, this is why we have a market economy not a planned one, no one knows what human desires we want to have solved next. It’s going to be fun finding out of course, but we know that those desires to be sated are there.

Or perhaps we don’t? Which gives us the other end state–where there truly isn’t any more work for humans to do. But if there’s no more work for humans to do then everyone must be getting all that they desire. Because it’s only if all desires are met that there is no work to do. And if everyone is getting all they desire then what do we care that no one has a job? Who needs a job if they’re getting everything they want? Of course, this also means that we’ll be able to consume the output of those robots.

But think through it, if we don’t get to consume the output of the robots then we’re not getting everything we want and thus we’ve all still got jobs. And if we do get to consume the output of those robots making everything we desire then we don’t need jobs. It’s not possible for the end state to leave us unsatisfied and also unemployed. If we are to be unemployed then we must be sated, if we’re not sated then we’re not unemployed.

This then leaves us with the problem of the transition. Now there we could have problems. That massive unemployment of the early 1930s in the US was actually rather less to do with Wall Street crashing and rather more to do with the tractor. The labour coming off the land didn’t have the factories to move into. It took time to get those going.

But it’s the speed of the transition that matters, not that the transition occurs. Which leads to this interesting little paper:

We show that skill requirements in job vacancy postings differentially increased in MSAs that were hit hard by the Great Recession, relative to less hard-hit areas, and that these differences across MSAs persist through the end of 2015. The increases are prevalent within occupations, more pronounced in the non-traded sector, driven by both within-firm upskilling and substitution from older to newer firms, accompanied by increases in capital stock, and are evident in realized employment. We argue that this evidence reflects the restructuring of production toward more-skilled workers and routine-labor saving technologies, and that the Great Recession accelerated this process.

They’re actually trying to study whether the recession has sped up technological change as people move jobs. They say yes it does which is lovely. That’s not my point though. My point is that this is how technological change happens. As people change jobs the new jobs are ever so slightly different from the ones they left or which disappeared. It’s not that all truck drivers get made unemployed overnight. It’s that the sector changes job by job. If you want an analogy there’s that old one about science advancing funeral by funeral. Here, technology changes business bankruptcy by business bankruptcy, job change by job change.

At which point we can try to put some numbers on this. We’re told that 45% of jobs will disappear in 30 years. Sure, that’s just one of the predictions but let’s stick with that one. Jobs churn is about 20% of all jobs each year.

Some 10% of all jobs disappear each year as businesses go bust, downsize, stop a certain line of work and so on. Another 10% of all jobs each year are quits, people deciding they can do better elsewhere and leaving one job for another. It’s not quite true to say that all of those jobs changes mean technological change but that is the way to bet. Very, very few of us have changed jobs to be doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same technology but just for another employer. Rather, as that paper is studying, technological change comes as people move jobs. They’re studying how much this happens and whether it’s been sped up by the recession (answer, yes!) but they are also showing that this is how technology changes, through job changes.

Now we can put our numbers together. 20% of all jobs change each year and if not subject to technological change then at least to technological drift. That means that over 30 years we expect 600% of jobs to have had some technological drift, no? And given that that is 6x the total number of jobs drifting we’d rather expect that the end technological state is very different that the beginning one. At which point we’re told that 45% of jobs will be killed off by technological change over the same period. And?

That scary prediction is that, at worst, we’re going to add under 10% to the effect that we would already predict will happen? This isn’t one of those things that we would say is likely to be a problem. It’s not entirely certain that we’d even note it if we’re honest about it, it’s far more likely that it will be lost in that technological change and drift we already expect. We might be able to look back and wonder of where all those truck driving jobs went but we’re not going to see that army of 4 million unemployed as a result. That will have been absorbed into the rest of the labour force through that drift over time.

If someone started insisting that we’re going to lose 45% of jobs next week then we’d both want to see their workings and also start to worry about it. But the predictions of labour force change to be wrought by the robots are so much lower than the extant fluidity of the labour market that this simply isn’t something to worry about. Nor is it something we need to have a policy about. It’s simply not a change very different from the normal workings of the economy.

New Books and ARCs, 10/28/16

Oct. 28th, 2016 07:54 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Enough time left in October to get in one last stack of new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. Which of these do you think will be a treat? Tell us in the comments!

Begun, The Yard Wars Have

Oct. 28th, 2016 07:14 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

We’re pretty close to our neighbors Karen and Bob — not just because they live next door to us, but because they’re good friends of ours as well. Nevertheless, this election we’ll not be voting for the same presidential candidate, and we all know it, and that’s fine. It does mean that we rib each other about it a little bit. Last night, after Krissy was done visiting them, she “accidentally” ran over Bob’s “Trump” sign as she driving back over to our house, and well. Shots fired.

So just a few minutes ago I hear a loud noise outside my office window, and look down to see Bob on his riding mower, mowing letters into our yard.

Which letters? Well, if you can’t make them out from the picture above, let me trace them out for you:

There’s a dog there for scale.

And how do I feel about this?

1. Given Krissy’s “accidental” ploughing down of Bob’s “Trump” sign, it’s totally fair play;

2. Even without the instigating act on the part of Krissy, I would find it pretty amusing.

Note that these hijinx in both cases are couched specifically in existing friendship — Krissy wouldn’t run over anyone else’s Trump sign (nor would I, for that matter), and I very strongly suspect that Bob’s not going to take up mowing “Trump” into anyone else’s yard. Krissy knew her act would be received good-naturedly, and that Bob would then feel obliged to respond in kind. And here we are with the word “Trump” shaved into our grass.

Again: Totally fair play. And motivation to mow the rest of the lawn sometime soon.

[syndicated profile] anders_hanson_feed

Posted by Anders Hanson

I’ve not managed to blog the last English Council Executive (ECE) meeting or follow up on the English Council (EC) meeting which I feel a bit frustrated by. This has been due to some personal circumstances and a slight reticence whilst I was in the process of job hunting given advice received from a couple of recruitment agencies that being seen to be currently politically active might jeopardise my employment chances. I’m not sure whether that’s true but you don’t want to take the risk. With me now having been recruited for a new role starting soon, and having a little more time on my hands, I am trying to catch up with some of the English Party’s activities in light of tomorrow’s ECE meeting which is back meeting at Lib Dem HQ for the first time in a while.

As always this post has ended up far too long, however there are at least two pretty chunky areas that are seeing a lot of work which you can read more about here…

English Party Review

The Federal Conference last month made it very clear during the motions and speeches on the constitutional review that they wanted to see changes to how the party was structured in England. This is not news however to the English Council Executive and its current Chair produced a series of proposals (that had been consulted on with English Council members at least) that went to the June English Council for a decision. These proposals would have seen some pretty extensive changes that would have put the English Party ahead of the game in responding to some of the criticisms made against it, largely relating to accountability and democracy, although it certainly wouldn’t have dealt with all of them. It also wouldn’t have seen the end to the English Party, which is something that a reasonable proportion of party members would prefer, although the complexity there is that members differ wildly on whether powers should be transferred up to the federal party or down to the regional parties. In the end these proposals were rejected by English Council with a feeling that they needed further discussion and wider consultation, especially given that at that point no one knew what the final proposals would be from the federal Governance Review (although they were then released just a week later).

As a result, at the September ECE meeting a group was set up to ‘review the structure of the party in England’. This wording has been carefully chosen by what is now called the English Review Group as part of its terms of reference to show it is looking at the structure in England, not necessarily the structure of the English Party. The idea is that anything will be considered and a set of options will be proposed for people to vote on. I think this is the right way of dealing with it as it will hopefully engage people of all viewpoints in the party. The terms of reference go on to state the purpose of this restructuring is to ‘make proposals with the aim of maximising democracy, inclusivity, communication and effectiveness; all with the ultimate aim of advancing the purposes of the Liberal Democrats through electing representatives and other means.’

I. (along with about four other people), was proposed by ECE as a member of the group and am therefore the de facto Yorkshire and the Humber regional rep too. It was felt that each region should be represented and so any region that didn’t have a member already appointed by ECE was contacted via its chair to nominate someone to take part. The group met informally at Brighton Conference just to sort out how to get the group up and running, and then more formally in a physical/Skype meeting in Witney a couple of weeks ago to discuss how to proceed. The chair is Sally Symington who is a member in East of England region and whilst an experienced party member has not been active at regional, state or federal level.

I should stress that this is a very new group, which will be why most people won’t have heard of it yet and the speed of some communications may be affected by the Richmond Park by-election. ECE will be briefed and consulted on its plans tomorrow and the intention is to communicate with English members ASAP including via email, Facebook, party websites, conferences, meetings and party bodies, and with the other state parties. The intention is that rather than a long drawn our process the group will consult over the Autumn and Winter, with initial proposals being ready by the Spring for a decision to be made at next June’s English Council.

Parliamentary Candidates

Following a lot of work by regional and state candidates’ committees (and of course the relevant party staff) there are now candidates in place in virtually all English constituencies in the event of a snap election. The original intention from the federal party was to parachute in every single candidate, including in potential target seats, but thanks to a lot of work by the English Candidates’ Chair, many constituencies were in the end able to have a vote of its membership on choosing a candidate. The diversity of the candidates overall is fairly similar to the 2015 General Election, although it appears (my assessment only) that it has improved in the most likely winnable seats. If there is no snap election by 31st of May then new selections will take place which will at least give potential candidates more ability to engage with local party members in the process and it will allow more of the influx of new keen members to become approved before these take place. It should be emphasised that one of the reasons this process could be carried out at such speed was because a significant number of candidates stood on the condition that it was for a snap election only and they did not want to commit now to being a PPC in 2020.

There is a need for significantly more Returning Officers for selections. At the moment there are 80 of them across England all of whom are hardworking yet they are severely overloaded as not all of them have the time to take on many selections, circumstances change, they aren’t evenly spread and many constituencies want to select seats simultaneously. There is a plan for a series of workshops to train up new Returning Officers ASAP, however people need to express an interest. The English Candidates’ Chair has drawn up a simple job description and person specification for the role:

The selection process is run by a Returning Officer who is appointed by the Regional Candidates Chair. They:

  • ensure fair and equal treatment for all applicants
  • advise the short listing committee
  • ensure that the selection rules are followed by all participants and their supporters
  • ensure that all members who are eligible to vote are able to do so
  • resolve conflict between applicants (informally as an arbitrator or by making rulings that are binding)
  • are volunteers who can claim expenses

The essential qualities and skills needed for a good RO are:

  • Integrity
  • Impartiality
  • Assertiveness
  • Good judgement
  • Calmness under pressure
  • Good communication skills (both oral and verbal)
  • Good organizational ability
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Attention to detail
  • But the Returning Officer is NOT a Police Officer.

If you are, or think you might be, interested then contact the Candidates’ Office at Lib Dem HQ. Most of all though, do encourage other people who you think would be good.

Regional Parties’ Committee

The workload for this committee that deals with complaints and disciplinary issues is always quite high, although much of its work is quietly carried out in the background by party staff. Due to the nature of the sorts of issues it deals with it isn’t possible to report back easily in public. The committee physically meets and runs through ‘live’ complaints every few months, but on particularly high profile or urgent cases, a decision on whether to at least suspend a member will usually be made within hours. Occasionally people ask where complaints should be directed to and the answer is to this page on the party website. All complaints are looked at and considered and most of them are resolved fairly simply, but these are rarely the cases that the majority of members were even aware of in the first place. It’s fair to say that some others, usually the more high profile ones, are not so easy to resolve in a way that everyone is satisfied with although the staff and the committee do try to do this.

Two general discussions have also taken place that are not related to specific individuals. One was a decision to adopt the Home Affairs Select Committee’s proposed definition of anti-semitism and the other was to look at trying to define some standards for members’ online and social media activity (always a source of potential tension). On the latter it was discovered that a guide on this had already been produced by Federal Executive and the key points from this will instead be drawn out for wider use.

Diversity Engagement Group

The English Party has a representative on the Diversity Engagement Group, however this group looks likely to be re-organised to be a smaller group of people. As always with these things, smaller groups can often get more done, but they also can run the risk of less buy-in and poorer communications with those people who actually do the work on the ground. As this area is a key priority for the party at the moment, including the recent appointment of a Candidates Diversity Champion, it will be interesting to see where this goes and how more members are involved in improving this area especially in local parties.

Federal Policy Committee

There are three areas of policy work that are currently active – nuclear weapons (currently being consulted on with final motion going to Spring 2017 conference), Britain and the World (just about to start work with consultation in Spring and a motion in Autumn 2017), and 21st Century Economy (still early stages).

Membership and finances

The party membership (in England) following the post-election and referendum surges and any lapses is 67, 495 which is great news but means that 50,000 members will be due for renewal in the middle of 2017. Some pretty robust plans for membership retention (at all levels of the party) need to be in place by then.

The proposed budget for 2017 has been finalised. There are few major changes from the 2016 budget and it will come to the English Council in November for agreement but is to be discussed at this ECE meeting. The Membership Incentive Scheme which was revised at the start of this year to help share the considerable extra short-term costs with the federal party continues as it is.

Liberal Youth

Liberal Youth is being rebranded as Young Liberals and they have been busy preparing for freshers’ fairs as well as coming up with a new strategy to match their rebranding. This includes increasing both internal and external visibility, improving its financial independence through better fundraising and merchandise, and encouraging more of its members to stand for public elections.

Well done Ritchie

Oct. 28th, 2016 05:06 pm
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

I am delighted that it has today been ruled that Uber’s drivers are employees of the company and not self employed contractors.

The decision is good for the employees in question. They will now enjoy the minimum wage, holiday and sick leave entitlements, maternity and paternity rights, and employment protection. I also hope they will be fairly reimbursed for their costs of providing a car.

No, employment law distinguishes between workers and employees.


Jeebus, 3 minutes ago I didn’t know there was a distinction. But because I am willing to use that tax dodging Google thing I was able to find out.

Richard Murphy says:
October 28 2016 at 5:27 pm
I have written extensively on the subject in the past

And if you read the decision you would realise precisely that this does look, despite the wording about which the Tribunal were suitably rude, exactly like the substance of an employment contract

If a Tribunal can see the glaringly obvious why couldn’t HMRC?


The ride-hailing app had argued that it was a tech firm and that its drivers were independent self-employed contractors who can choose where and when they work. As a result, they were not entitled to rights granted to workers,
On Friday, the employment tribunal announced that it had found in the drivers’ favour. The ruling means that these workers and others

That’s from Ritchie’s own sodding link!

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

The latest Gross Domestic Product figures for the United States are out and we’re seeing that in the latest, third, quarter the economy grew at 2.9%. This could be described as “roaring back” as some have put it, could be described as pretty mediocre growth after a recession of the depth that we’ve had. As, actually, the same people who said roaring also described it. We should also note that this is an early figure, very subject to revision and revision in either direction in the future. Some part of this is numbers actually known and added up, other parts are simply projections and estimates. Thus the potential for later revisions.

Myself I take this as a confirmation of a long standing suggestion of mine–we’ve a problem in our methods of estimating GDP. More specifically, we’ve got something wrong in our methods of making seasonal adjustments. Please do note this is a suggestion, not an ex cathedra announcement. It’s also not a major problem and I’m not trying to suggest the sort of fixing or fraud that some try to insist upon about unemployment numbers. Rather, we’ve a technical problem here which we’d like to fix, assuming, of course, that I’m right in the first place.

The announcement is here:

Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the third quarter of 2016
(table 1), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the
second quarter, real GDP increased 1.4 percent.

The Bureau emphasized that the third-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data
that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see “Source Data for the
Advance Estimate” on page 3). The “second” estimate for the third quarter, based on more complete
data, will be released on November 29, 2016.

Note the very tentative nature of these numbers. But they don’t look or feel out of line. There’s nothing out there in the economy which makes this look odd either way. We’re not seeing wages, job offerings, prices, leap ahead, any of which might signify boomtimes. Nor are we seeing the classic signs of recession nor anything like it.

Of this the WSJ said:

U.S. Economy Roars Back, Grew 2.9% in Third Quarter

Roar is probably too strong for what we would more normally call a bit “meh” for the comeback from a deep recession. Bloomberg gives a bit more detail of exactly where the growth is coming from:

U.S. economic growth picked up in the third quarter after an uninspiring first half of the year as a build in inventories and a soybean-related jump in exports helped cushion softer household spending.

Well, OK, but it’s all still a bit “meh.”

The thing that struck me was this:


This is what bolsters my long held contention that we’ve a measurement problem here.

[syndicated profile] el_reg_odds_feed

Posted by Clodagh Doyle

Most enthusiastic bankers are in London and the South East

The UK's only NHS sperm bank has stopped recruiting donors after a trawl for men prepared to schlep to Birmingham to make a deposit turned up a mere handful.…

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by The Voice

Yesterday Merlene Toh Emerson and Jen Yockney went to the Palace to collect their MBEs. Marlene was awarded for her public and political service and Jen for services to the bisexual community.

Here they are together with some great colour co-ordination:

This is what we said at the time their awards were announced.

Merlene Toh Emerson is awarded an MBE for “political and public service”. Merlene was the Liberal Democrat Candidate for the London Assembly, West Central Constituency in 2008 and was third on our London list this year. She was also Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith in May 2010. A City solicitor turned mediator, Merlene is a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of the World Traders livery company and has been on a number of official visits to China, Hongkong and Central Asia as a British Chinese politician. She is on the executive of Liberal International British Group and serves on the Liberal Democrat International Relations Committee. Merlene has a very interesting blog here.

Jen Yockney becomes an MBE “for services to the Bisexual Community”. On her website, Jen is described as:

…one of the most prominent bisexual community activists in the UK, having worked on giving bisexual communities support and voice for the past twenty-plus years…She is active in many levels of community work: frontline support at the UK’s oldest bisexual support group; publications and policy-making such as initiating meetings between the bi volunteer / activist community and GEO; and as a mentor actively reaching out to new volunteers to help bi groups and projects around the country blossom.

The Big Idea: Patrick Sheane Duncan

Oct. 28th, 2016 01:48 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

A title like Dracula vs. Hitler kind of explains itself, but even so, author and screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan had his reasons for bringing these two villains of the past together for a nefarious confrontation in WWII-era Transylvania. What was it? Read on!


I’ve always been fascinated by the way that popular culture reflects and influences society. It’s been a concern of mine since some pandering politician banned my favorite comic book, stating that they “corrupted” the tender minds of kids like me and turned us into juvenile delinquents. I knew it was bullshit. I became a juvenile delinquent because I was poor. At various times these self appointed censors have condemned rock ‘n’ roll, television violence, “dirty” magazines and lately, video games, always using the same trumped up charge.

(To tell the truth, I admit to being corrupted by all of these – but not in the way those narrow-minded yahoos worried about. They all freed me and my imagination.)

But I do see how popular culture reflects our worries and problems. An obvious example is the science fiction films of the fifties and sixties. I’m talking about how some errant radioactive incident created a monster set out to destroy…well, everything. A fifty foot man or woman, giant insects and our good old buddy Godzilla. Our nation’s fears of an atomic holocaust were made simple in one conquerable but metaphorical creature.

And it isn’t a mental hurdle to jump forward and see the effects of 9/11 on our films. I mean, how many times can we blow up the White House and every other iconic landmark on the planet – just to be saved by someone in Spandex or the President’s handsome bodyguard?

So, when vampires became popular again in a multitude of movies and television series, I was curious. A good many of these, if not all, were aimed at teenagers. I’ve always been a fan of the theory (I wish I could remember who first proposed it) that vampires, and their mythological kin, werewolves, are powerful metaphors for the fraught transition from childhood to adult. The symbolism is pretty blatant and definitely relatable to confused adolescents. With profound, even violent changes in the body, the werewolf has hair sprouting in unexpected places (on the palms of his hands, what was he doing?! Oh my!), profound outsider status, and is wrought with sexual under- and overtones, including sexual aggressiveness after the change, (there are a whole lot of women being assaulted/seduced in their bedrooms by werewolves and vampires alike). And to cap it off, so often these modern fairy tales end in a marriage.

When the latest vampire films rose from the Hollywood graveyard, I went back to some of the originals and found myself watching a lot of great Universal movies from the late 1930s and ‘40s.  And I noticed something – there was no mention of the war in these films. Except for one, where a German bombing of a British graveyard disinterred Dracula, the war didn’t exist. Mostly this was done by making them period pieces, but even the present day set films avoided the topic. A pure definition of escapist entertainment.

My imagination made the short leap – what if those two worlds did intersect? Bring the gritty reality of war into that old time escapism? Aha!

I’m a history buff so I knew that at the beginning of WWII Transylvania was given to Romania by the invading Germans. I also knew that Vlad the Impaler, the model for Stoker’s Dracula, was a prince and a patriot. Thusly he would be a natural foe to fight the Nazis. Bam. I had a hero. Actually a super hero. Cool.

Then there was the fact that the Nazis, particularly Hitler, were fascinated by the occult, believers who sent people searching the world for magic relics to use in their cause. So why wouldn’t Hitler, discovering the existence of an immortal and powerful creature, want to be immortal himself and attempt to capture Dracula? Bam, I had a villain.

Dracula versus Hitler.

To bring in the rest of the cast, I had Van Helsing settle in Transylvania after defeating Dracula and I gave him an adult, ferocious daughter (The requisite sexual motif of the genre). These two would lead the partisans fighting the Nazis and be driven by German atrocities to revive the Professor’s great enemy to fight an even worse monster. Harker and Renfield were brought in to make the book as much fun as the title. I then had all the elements needed for a rousing action adventure story with an essence of the supernatural. Using the style of Bram Stoker’s original (diary and journal entries, letters, etc.) was a novelistic exercise for my own enjoyment and a tribute to the book I love so much.

And I did it because it looked like fun and I believe that if you entertain yourself in the writing you have a pretty good chance to entertain the reader.

As for Dracula vs. Hitler’s place and meaning in the gestalt, I’ll leave that to some other fan/over educated analyst in desperate need of a PhD thesis.


Dracula vs. Hitler: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

[syndicated profile] uk_polling_report_feed

Posted by Anthony Wells

The Evening Standard have published a new BMG poll of the Richmond Park by-election, suggesting a significantly less exciting race than some people thought (and than the Lib Dems hoped). Topline voting intention figures are:

GOLDSMITH (Ind) 56% (down 2 from the Con share in 2015)
OLNEY (Lib Dem) 29% (up 10 from the LD share in 2015)
LABOUR 10% (-2)
OTHER 5% (-5)

While there is a month to go, this suggests that Goldsmith should hold the seat relatively easily. The idea that, with both main candidates opposing Heathrow expansion, it could become an by-election about Brexit in a pro-EU seat doesn’t really seem to working out at present. 25% of voters say that Brexit will be the most important issue in deciding their vote, but they are mostly voting Lib Dem and Labour already. Goldsmith’s voters say their most important considerations are Goldsmith’s own record and views, followed by Heathrow opposition.

BMG also asked people how they would have voted if the Conservatives had put up an official Conservative candidate against Goldsmith. Topline figures would have been GOLDSMITH 34%, LIB DEM 25%, CONSERVATIVE 20% – so the race would have been far more competitive, but with the Tories trailing in third place. It was an unusual decision not to stand, but the polling suggests it was the right one for the Tories (or at least, neither option would have produced a Tory MP, but the Conservatives presumably prefer Goldsmith winning to a Lib Dem). Full details are here.

The Raging Beauty of Monsoons

Oct. 28th, 2016 01:00 pm
[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

I’ve never gone storm chasing. Where I live in Colorado I hardly need to; in many cases I just have to sit tight and watch them chase me.

But I wonder. Mike Olbinski is a photographer who takes astonishing pictures of storms, and his time-lapse animations are beyond gorgeous. His latest, Monsoon III, is ample proof.

You know the drill: Set it to high resolution, make it full screen, and turn your volume up.

Ye. Gads.

He shot that in the summer of 2016 over the course of about 36 days, and took—get this—85,000 frames. A lot of it was shot in 8k, and I can only imagine what this must look like in full resolution.

To create a summer monsoon, first sunlight warms the land. Then the air above it gets warmed so it rises and expands, turning into a low pressure system. Moisture-laden air from the oceans sweeps in, lifts up, condenses, and storms form.

But that hardly describes the intensity and fierce beauty seen in Olbinski’s video. I was particularly impressed with the haboobs—the walls of dust blown outward from below the storm. These form when there’s a big downdraft from the storm cloud (like a microburst, when falling rain evaporates and cools the air around it, which gets denser and falls rapidly; when it hits the ground, it spreads outward like an enormous splash and can be incredibly powerful. This picks up sand and dust, blasting it outward. The size and scale of a haboob can be enormous. I’ve never seen one in person, but then, I’d maybe rather not anyway. Yikes.

It’s also amazing to see how focused the rainfall can be sometimes even when the cloud is sprawled out over a large area. The interaction of heat, air, and water produces unusual and unexpected results … at least, unexpected to me, a novice and amateur cloud watcher.

It’s also a strong reminder that the air around us is a fluid; literally, it can flow. Watching clouds and storms like these in person, the action is distant and slow. But in time-lapse videos, that motion can be seen, and the air itself looks and behaves exactly like the fluid it is.

And finally, I have to note how magnificent the music is. I love it when the video is edited to match the feel and cadence of the music, as Olbinksi did to Kerry Muzzey’s “Revenge / Revenge Epilogue.” It adds a depth that gives more than its share of power to the footage.

My thanks to Mike for letting me know about his amazing video. If you like it, check out his others like Vorticity, Monsoon II, and a jaw-dropping supercell forming over Texas.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Interesting news for the fight for $15 crowd here, a truly proper socialist government has decided to take care of the workers by raising the minimum wage for the fourth time just this year. The raise takes that minimum wage all the way up to a stunning $65 a month. Of course, that’s using the market exchange rate, not the official one. And it’s also neglecting to make a purchasing power parity adjustment but then the major complaint in Venezuela is that there isn’t anything to buy anyway, making PPP somewhat problematic to calculate.

But this is quite obviously a victory for Bolivarian socialism. Back in May this year the minimum wage in Venezuela was only $13.50 a month. So President Maduro is entirely right in celebrating how much richer his actions are making the citizenry of the Bolivarian state:

“In what other part of the world do workers enjoy so many raises?,” Mr. Maduro said on state television. “Nowhere else.”

Quite so Nicolas, quite so.

At which point we should probably move to /sarcasm. Because of course this is just yet another symptom of the economic idiocy with which that country is being ruled:

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro just increased the nation’s minimum wage by 40%.
But that’s still not much in a world where inflation is expected to soar by nearly 500% this year and 1,660% next year, according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund.
Venezuela’s minimum wage, including food subsidies, is rising to 90,812 bolivars a month.
That’s just $67 a month, according to the popular, unofficial exchange rate on DolarToday.com.

Well, that exchange rate is a moving target of course. When I look at it, at my pixel time, it tells me that’s $65 a month:

BsF. 1.385,52

One explanation would be that inflation isn’t quite that bad there yet but we suspect that Maduro is going to pay for this simply by printing more money thus the exchange rate falls in tandem with the promise.

But of course the larger question we’d like an answer to is how did this come about? How did an oil producing middle income nation fall to the living standards of the poorest countries on the planet? No, really, $60 a month is akin to (no not the same as, akin to) the minimum wage in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia. The answer to that being just plain old fashioned economic idiocy. No, let’s not mince words, that’s what it is.

There’s no problem at all with the idea that maybe the poor should get a larger slice of the economic pie. It does however matter how you do it. That Nordic social democracy idea of taxing lots in order to have redistribution does work. Maybe we don’t think it’s a good idea, maybe we don’t like a high tax society but it does actually work. There’s also nothing wrong with socialism. So, the workers own the means of production. Why not? There are worker owned supermarket chains in both the US and UK and they work just fine.

It’s when you decide that you’d like to dispense with the price system that the market goes awry. And that is what Chavez and Maduro did. They thought basic foods were too expensive. So, they fixed the price and fixed those prices nice and cheap. At which point there was no basic food to be had. For if you insist that the price of something is less than the market price then there will be none of that thing on the market. This is not an optional extra, this price system, it’s the heart of the whole beat and circulation of the economy. It tells everyone who wants what and where, and who is willing to produce what and where. Kill that system and there won’t be production and if there isn’t production then there cannot be consumption.

Add to that printing money for the government to spend thus causing inflation and you manage to plunge a middle income country into Venezuela’s current penury. That really is it, there is no more to it than that, just simple economic idiocy.

And something we should remember for those who would rule and manage our own economies. No, really, price fixing doesn’t work. Rent control doesn’t, minimum wages don’t. If you want the poor to have more than you’re going to have to tax the richer people and then give the money to the poor. And if the rich won’t vote for you so that you can’t gain the power to do such taxation, or for the taxes when you’re in power, well, then you can’t do the redistribution, can you?

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

The UK government just won a pair of cases in Northern Ireland, a pair which tried to insist that there must be a parliamentary vote before Article 50 was triggered. As a result the pound has fallen and the FTSE 100 stock market index has risen. This is pretty much how we should be looking at short term movements in those two. Forget either the random walk theory or whatever we might do to analyse profits of firms on the market. What we’re dealing with here is the interaction of the efficient markets hypothesis and uncertainty about the future. The more likely Brexit looks then the lower sterling will go, the less likely the higher. And FTSE will move in the inverse against the same information.

The news itself:

A landmark legal challenge against Brexit has been rejected at the High Court in Belfast.
Two separate proceedings, one by a cross-party group of MLAs and another from victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord, were heard earlier this month.
A judge ruled there was nothing in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement to prevent the government triggering Article 50, the formal legal process for leaving the EU.

It all looks pretty trivial but Zero Hedge has this at least in part correct:

Moments ago sterling did what it has been doing so well these past few months, it tumbled by as much as 50 pips after the UK government won a Brexit suit in a Northern Ireland court: a Northern Irish judge rejected a pair of challenges to the Brexit process, removing at least one obstacle to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to begin severing ties with the European Union by the end of March.

The Northern Irish High Court ruled that lawmakers don’t need to hold a vote to start the two-year countdown to Brexit. The judge also rejected a challenge based on Good Friday Peace Agreement.

And if you look at intraday FTSE100 you’ll see that it bounced exactly as sterling fell.

The details here (and there’s another very similar case going on in London at present) is that some insist that there must be a vote in parliament before the government triggers Article 50. Article 50 is the mechanism by which Britain says sayonara to the EU and thus puts that referendum vote into action. The argument that there must be a parliamentary vote doesn’t have a great deal of weight to it but people are trying all the same. For it’s well known that the majority of MPs don’t want Brexit to take place while quite obviously a majority of those bothered enough to vote on the issue do. So, if a vote is required then maybe that democratic will can be frustrated.

OK, that’s politics, but now to the economics. The more likely it is that Britain leaves the more likely it is that we’ll end up with a clean Brexit, without access to the Single Market. Thus the lower sterling goes. That’s pretty simple. But if clean Brexit is going to be bad for the UK economy, which is why sterling falls, then why would the stock market index rise at the same time?

The answer is that only 25% of that FTSE 100 actually refers to the UK economy. Fully 75% of revenues come from outside Britain–and in currencies other than sterling. So, sterling falls, those foreign profits are worth more in sterling, thus stocks rise as sterling falls. Essentially, the current FTSE 100 (and to a lesser extent FTSE 250) is bouncing around on the odds of clean Brexit or even Brexit at all.

Which brings us to our economic theory. The efficient markets hypothesis does not say that markets are the efficient way of doing things. What it does say is that markets are efficient at incorporating information into prices. So, here we’ve got a court case which will resolve some part (maybe only a small part, but a part) of the uncertainty about Brexit. We get the judgement and within minutes we’ve got two large markets, the currency and the main stock index, reacting to that information. Yes, markets seem to be pretty good at incorporating new information into prices.

And when we get the next snippet about how likely, or unlikely, Brexit or even clean Brexit are then we’ll see those two prices bouncing around in the same way, as we have been for the past few weeks. Note again that the EMH doesn’t say that the world should be all markets all the time markets. Only that the efficiency of incorporating new information into prices works. And we do seem to be testing that quite nicely and so far at least the EMH is passing those tests.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Paul Walter

At the end of the day, we’re all Brits together. I rejoice that Nissan have announced the production of the new Qashqai and X-Trails at Sunderland.

Tim Farron has commented:

The commitment to Sunderland by Nissan is obviously very welcome. Ensuring that jobs are protected at the plant is vital for Sunderland and our economy.

However, it is utterly ridiculous that Theresa May is having to give special assurances to key manufacturers in order to deal with the Brexit fallout her government is creating.

What happens when other car companies come asking for special treatment? What about our other major industries – will they also be given protection? And what about the millions of small businesses who are being hit by a collapsing pound and severe economic uncertainty?

If the government was serious about protecting jobs in the UK, it would be fighting to remain part of the Single Market.

Downing Street vehemently denies any “sweetheart” deal with Nissan.

Let’s take their denial at face value and imagine what Theresa May said to the Nissan boss when she met him. I am sure it was minuted by Sir Humphrey.

She probably gave him her usual blather about “unique agreement” and “best deal for Britain” blah blah blah.

It which case, one suspects there is a sharp contrast between Mrs May’s blather, both public and private, and what seems to be happening in her government – a race to the bottom, a crazy all-out stampede for the hardest of hard Brexits.

One wonders if Nissan bosses will have some cause for complaint in future?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. As part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team he helps with photos and moderation on the site, as well as occsionally contributing articles. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.


matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)
Mat Bowles

October 2015


Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags

Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

Here's the legal text:
Printed by Dreamwidth LLC, Maryland, USA. Published and promoted by Mat Bowles (Liberal Democrat) of Brighouse, West Yorkshire.
Page generated Oct. 28th, 2016 09:29 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios