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Jul. 2nd, 2015 09:16 pm
yhlee: fractal (fractal (art: unHnu icon: enriana))
[personal profile] yhlee
I never knew, when I was a wee math major, that Reidemeister moves [Wolfram Mathworld; from knot theory] would prove so useful when trying to teach myself tatting with the help of [personal profile] lavenderbard's get-started-tatting kit and this tutorial.

Mathematica est utilis!
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

You may have noticed something about this book. There are very few women mentioned.

And this is even after I have made a conscious effort to redress the balance, because I wanted to recognise the efforts of as many women in this book as possible. The problem is, though, that the LA music scene of the 60s was viciously sexist. For the most part, there was only one role for women, and that was “groupie”.

But just because women were being shut out of positions of power does not mean they were not being creative. The groupies in LA in the 60s were in many ways the prototype of today’s Tumblr fandoms; teenage girls creating a language, a culture, and a community around a shared love of music and musicians who, frankly, often didn’t deserve that love and were vastly less interesting than their fans.

Thanks to Frank Zappa, we have a record of at least part of that culture. In 1968, Zappa and Herb Cohen were starting two record labels — Bizarre, to release Zappa’s own music, and Straight, which would release work from the LA freak scene. Straight released records by, among others, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper, and the homeless schizophrenic street singer Wild Man Fischer. And it released Permanent Damage by the GTOs.

The GTOs (initials which stood for Girls Together Outrageously, Often, Only, or anything else that started with an “o”) were a group of groupies who had come together as dancers at Ciro’s during the Byrds’ residency there, hanging out with Carl Franzoni, Vito, and the other leaders of the LA freak scene. The names they took (Miss Pamela, Miss Sandra, Miss Cinderella, Miss Christine, Miss Mercy, Miss Sparky, Miss Lucy, and Miss Johna) were given them by Tiny Tim, who referred to everyone as Miss or Mister followed by their first name.

The women (especially Mercy) wrote songs about their life and the people they knew, and sang them in unison rather than harmony. These songs were often absolutely cutting, as in their song about Rodney Bingenheimer, the famous LA scenester whose main job at the time was as Davy Jones’ stand-in (he’s now a DJ). They impersonated Bingenheimer, portraying him as an egomaniac latching on to more famous people and using their fame to get laid: “The Hollies are my best friends/And I ate lunch with Grace Slick yesterday/You can ball Ringo Starr if you ball me first”, before singing at the end “Oh, Rodney, if you introduce me to Mick Jagger/I’ll let you meet my little sister/She’s only twelve years old”. Amazingly, when this song was recorded, they got Bingenheimer to join in, playing himself.

The album Zappa produced for them, Permanent Damage, is a fascinating record of this culture. Part of it is spoken word — the women either chatting (a phone call to the Plaster Casters is particularly interesting) or reciting chants they’d written together — much is a capella unison singing, and there are some fully-produced songs, produced either by Zappa (with members of the Mothers of Invention backing), or by the Mothers’ new rhythm guitarist, Lowell George, who brought in friends such as the Jeff Beck Group (including one “Rodney Stewart” who provided backing vocals on one song), Russ Titelman and Ry Cooder. The album featured songs about characters around LA, about not liking to shower in gym class, about “soul brothers with processed points at the tips of their foreheads”, about being brought up by television, and about other concerns of women in their late teens and early twenties.

Possibly the best track on the album, and certainly the one that’s the most interesting clash of cultures, is The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes, a song with lyrics by the group and music by Davy Jones (who also wrote music for I’m In Love With The Ooh-Ooh Man, a song about Nick St. Nicholas of the band Steppenwolf, which also appears on the album). Over a Mothers of Invention backing, with tack piano reminiscent of a silent film soundtrack and boinging Moog noises, they sing about the shoes worn by Captain Beefheart (who was a notoriously dapper dresser) and try to persuade him to tapdance for them. After hearing “The T of his T-strap stands for Tippie-Toes/His Tippie-Toes fit him to a T/Oh C.B. do a tap dance for me/With your bigga fat Tippie-Toe Theresa Shoes” it’s impossible to think of Captain Beefheart as a genius on a different plane from us mortals — he was a bloke wearing silly shoes with stacked heels and a pointed tip.

Parts of Permanent Damage have dated badly, as one would expect from an album by girls in their late teens and early twenties talking very openly. Bits are homophobic, or borderline racist. But in a culture that was built up almost entirely around the solo, male, antisocial genius creating Great Works (and it’s notable that almost everyone I discuss in these essays is male, extremely talented, and somewhere between “a bit difficult to work with” and actually psychopathic), this is practically the only work that got created that was a celebration of the genius of a culture — a female, collective, culture. Girls together only.

The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes

Composer: Pamela Miller, Linda Parker, Christine Frka, Sandra Rowe, Cynthia Wells, and Davy Jones

Line-up: Miss Pamela, Miss Sandra, Miss Cinderella, Miss Christine, and Miss Mercy (vocals) Craig Doerge and Ian Underwood (keyboards), Roy Estrada (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (drums)

Original release: Permanent Damage, The GTOs, Straight STS 1059

Currently available on:
Out of print

This blog post is available as a podcast thanks to the people who donate to my Patreon.

Tagged: california dreaming
andrewducker: (Back slowly away)
[personal profile] andrewducker
About two years ago, Julie was diagnosed with cancer.

Her Bcr-Abl levels at the time were just over 100. At each three-monthly meeting with her consultant they've (approximately) halved, with the result that in February this year they hit 0.126, which is getting close to the level at which they're happy that you're clear.

Sadly, at today's meeting, we discovered that they haven't dropped any further in the three months to May. Which is a bit worrying - as when the drop plateaus it tends to mean that something somewhere has mutated or otherwise become resistant.

This isn't necessarily the case though, and the side-effects have actually been a bit worse in the last 8 weeks (since Julie stopped taking Omeprazole, which affects stomach acid, and can thus interact somewhat with the takeup of her current medication).

So the doctor had some more blood taken, and we should hear back in about three weeks how things are going now. Nobody is panicking about anything, and there are multiple different options available to her if it turns out that Nilotinib is no longer doing the job.

But if I seem even more stressed and off-hand than usual over the next while, it's because I'm distracted, Julie is distracted, and overall there's a chunk of distractedness going on.

New Books and ARCs, 7/2/15

Jul. 2nd, 2015 07:23 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

There’s a lot of excellence in this stack of books/ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. I imagine you see some stuff you would desire for you own library. Tell me what those might be in the comments!

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

In Clallam County, Washington, a woman has died of complications from measles. This is the first U.S. death from measles since 2003.

Clallam County had an outbreak of measles earlier this year, when five people were diagnosed with the disease. The woman who died brings this to a total of six.

She likely contracted measles when she visited a health facility; a person who was later identified as having measles was there at the same time. The woman who died was apparently taking a series of medications that lowered her immune system’s ability to fight off disease. Although she didn’t present a rash or other obvious external symptoms, she died of pneumonia caused by the measles infection.

Vaccination rates in that area of Washington are lower than they should be. We—and I do mean “we”—need the public to have as high a rate of vaccination as possible, to ensure herd immunity, so that the bacteria and viruses that can cause such illness and death have as few places to hide as we can muster. When rates drop, we get outbreaks, like the one in Disneyland that sickened so many and spread the highly contagious disease to many parts of the country.

One person who came down with measles in the Clallam outbreak had been inoculated, but it was decades ago, when the shot was less effective. It’s important to make sure your immunizations are up-to-date.

This death comes on the heels of California making it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their school-age children; only a medical exemption will be accepted (before, they also allowed religious and personal reasons). I’m very happy this law passed. I’ll note that Washington state, where the woman died, still allows personal exemptions. Hopefully their legislature will rethink that policy.

It also comes right after a huge and awful backlash against the new California law by the anti-vax crowd, including actor Jim Carrey, who tweeted a series of foolish and blatantly incorrect statements about vaccines. He brought up the zombie ideas of mercury poisoning (a non-issue) and conspiratorial Big Pharma nonsense.

Let me be very, very clear: Anti-vax rhetoric like that makes people scared to get vaccinated. Rates drop, herd immunity drops, outbreaks occur, and people get sick. Some die. This is a direct, step-by-step chain.

No one is forcing you to get vaccinated. If you want your children to attend school in California, then yes, you have to get hem vaccinated unless there’s a pressing medical reason. But no one is coming to your door, holding you down, and injecting you with anything. You still have a choice. That choice boils down to this: If you want to rely on public services, then you have to support those services. One method of support is making sure you have minimized the risk of your child giving other children dangerous infectious diseases.

And it’s not just children. It’s elderly people who are at risk, too, and people—like the woman who died in Washington—who are immunocompromised. I have family members in both these categories, which is why my entire family is up-to-date on our vaccinations.

When you get vaccinated, you are helping not just yourself, but also many, many people around you of all ages. Read up about measles, and what you need to do. Ask your board-certified doctor and see if you need to be vaccinated (or need to get your booster). If they recommend it, then listen to them.

Read more of Slate’s vaccines coverage.

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Posted by Harry Hayfield

Grantham, Barrowby on Lincolnshire (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2013): Conservatives 36, United Kingdom Independence Party 16, Labour 12, Lincolnshire Independents 8, Liberal Democrats 3, Independents 2 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 3)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Conservatives 558 (38%), Independent 476 (32%), Labour 442 (30%)
Candidates duly nominated: Rob Shorrock (Lab), Maureen Simon (UKIP), Mark Whittington (Con)

Lincolnshire, on the face of it, looks rather boring. Since 1989 it’s only gone NOC twice (1993 as part of the Conservative post Black Wednesday disaster, 2013 as part of the UKIP surge) but underneath that boringness there have been some interesting changes particularly in Grantham (ancestral home of Lady Thatcher).

There are five county wards that make up the town (Barrowby, East, North, North West, South) and in 2005 those wards reflected the closeness of the general election with the Conservatives on 41%, Labour on 40%, the Independents on 10% and the Lib Dems on 9% with the Conservatives winning two of the seats and Labour winning three.

Then came the disaster of 2009 for Labour, as their vote collapsed to just 16% allowing the Conservatives to win all five seats on a swing of nearly 15% from Labour to Conservative and although Labour did manage to make a gain in Grantham in 2013, they only managed to poll 30% with the Conservative vote virtually unchanged as UKIP polled 11%, the Independents 10% and the Liberal Democrats on 2% which therefore poses the question “How will the electors of Barrowby see this by-election?”.

If they see it as “Well, excuse me, I’m not the person who was elected as a new county councillor in 2013 and then goes swanning off to Westminster as the new MP for Bury St. Edmunds, in Suffolk I may point out!” then UKIP (with their past track record of taking votes from Independents and Conservatives) could make yet another gain in the county. However, if they take the attitude “Jo has made a principled stand. She cannot be an MP and a county councillor at the same time” then the Conservatives should be able to hold this marginal and Labour could be the ones to suffer from UKIP.

Hampton Wick on Richmond upon Thames (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2014): Conservatives 39, Liberal Democrats 15 (Conservative majority of 24)
Result of ward at last election (2014) : Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,870, 1,708, 1,586 (50%)
Green Party 696 (19%)
Liberal Democrats 676, 647, 593 (18%)
Labour 522, 520, 474 (14%)
Candidates: Anthony Breslin (Green), Jon Hollis (Con), Michael Lloyd (Ind), Geraldine Locke (Lib Dem), Sam Naz (UKIP), Paul Tanto (Lab)

“I must admit, it was with more than a little trepidation that I approached my destination” were the opening words to the BBC drama serial that bears this ward’s name. The serial (broadcast in 1971) was written by G. Wiley and a gentlemen. Therefore, people of a certain age will instantly recognise that this was one of the serials produced as part of the “Two Ronnies”. And why was the serial named after a ward in London? Because the lead character was having a post operation fuelled dream at Hampton Wick Cottage Hospital.

And looking at the result in 2014, I rather fear that’s the only way the Liberal Democrats will be able win this ward which poses the question if the Conservatives were to lose, who might gain? Well, we know from past experience that UKIP do have a London problem and Labour aren’t strong in the south west of the capital so how about the Greens? Well, 19% at the last elections from just a single candidate does suggest that Richmond may be turning over a Green leaf and then there’s the Independent who didn’t contest in 2014, but all in all I think that the former Conservative councillor (now a Conservative MP) will be very confident in congratulating his new Conservative successor in a few hours time.

Harry Hayfield

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Posted by Mark Pack

Ready your caveats.

A tally of a little under 1,000 tweets from people saying they’ve voted either for Tim Farron or Norman Lamb in the Lib Dem leadership race gives it as… 64% Tim Farron, 36% Norman Lamb.

Caveats away…


Thanks to Ed Fordham for the prompt to do this.

Keep up with news on the Lib Dem leadership race

The E word

Jul. 2nd, 2015 02:39 pm
supergee: (vampire squid)
[personal profile] supergee
An elitist is a person with ability who tells the masses not to obey the rich white guys. If you don't believe that, consider this article about Donald Trump as anti-elite politician.

(And let's hear it for the Chicago brewery that renamed their Donald Trump beer "Chinga Tu Pelo.")

Radio Silence

Jul. 2nd, 2015 02:11 pm
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

The blog will be relatively quiet for a week or so. I have very important “research” to do up north for the next book.

Sunset Lake at Sugarloaf Mountain Dock

It’s hard work being a writer, ya know?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

2x blanket layouts

Jul. 3rd, 2015 01:09 am
manual: (Default)
[personal profile] manual posting in [community profile] dreamwidthlayouts
Title: Lisbeth & Wentham
Credit to: [community profile] pagans
Base style: Blanket
Type: CSS
Best resolution: 1024x768 and higher
Tested in: firefox, chrome
Features: black & white, single column, modules disabled

( installation )

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Once upon a time, an author looked out the window of his writing shack.

Yes, this is what we do when we’re supposed to be writing.

Is Star Trek Tech Possible?

Jul. 2nd, 2015 03:00 pm
[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

My friend Veronica Belmont is pretty cool. Nerd, writer, TV host… and now she’s doing an online video series with Engadget called “Dear Veronica”, where she answers tech/geek questions sent in by viewers. It’s a lot of fun.

In this week’s episode, she was asked, “Which Star Trek technologies will still be invented? Which are truly impossible and will never happen?”

Hey, I like Star Trek! So I’m really glad she asked me to field this question.

That was fun to record. But it was hard, too, since I only had 30 seconds, which didn’t give me much time to really dig deep.

But hey, I have space on the blog (haha – “space”! I kill me) so why not give a little more detail here?

Before we get started: Almost everything below is conjecture, based on physics as we know it. But I’m not an expert in all these fields, and I’ve been known to be wrong before. If you have better evidence, please let me know! Also, I’m assuming no major breakthroughs that negate or heavily modify the laws of physics as we see today. Keep that one in mind. All of these might be possible, but would involve huge breakthroughs that seem pretty unlikely to me — still, I'm no curmudgeon, and I'd love to see any of these technologies come true. I’m also trying to be brief here, to cover a lot of the quadrant. If you want details, Commander Riker might have already looked it up for you.

So let’s leave spacedock and take these ideas out for a shakedown cruise.


There are lots of problems with the idea of going faster than light. You can’t just accelerate past it like you can the speed of sound; it would take infinite energy according to relativity. And relativity tends to be right.

Other ideas include making a warp bubble, or punching a hole through space, or wormholes, but they all still have the same problem: causality. Moving faster than light is like time travel, and that opens up an entirely new can of Gagh.

So, I’m giving this a Nope until proven otherwise.


In Trek, they’ve said many times that the transporter works by converting someone to energy, beaming that across space, and then re-matterizing them. The problem with this is that converting a standard redshirted human body (say, 50 - 70 kg) into energy is the equivalent of detonating well over a thousand 1-megaton nuclear bombs, which is a lot.

Even if you can contain that, how do you record someone’s “pattern”? That’s a lot of information. A lot. Theoretically, there’s an equation that describes every single subatomic particle in your body, but it’s a tad complex. Describing a hydrogen atom is already pretty hard, but put ten of them together and it gets fantastically complex. There are very roughly 1028 atoms in your body. That’s a big equation.

A better retcon would be to say you’re creating a subspace tube, encasing the traveler in a small force field, and plunging them through it. But even then, I don’t think subspace is quite so much real.

So: Nope.


Phasers are like lasers but instead they start with a digraph.

OK, how they work is never really stated, but I heard from a friend who worked on Next Generation that they don’t vaporize you, they send you into subspace, where you die (see “Transporters”, above, except don’t use a force field). That’s clever, and I like it, but again with the not-real subspace.


Artificial gravity/Inertial Dampening

These are tough. As far as we know now, there’s no way to do either (well, you can spin a spaceship to mimic gravity, but that has other complications; and besides, is clearly not what they mean by the term in Trek). These are fundamental properties of space and mass, and as far as we know, the laws of physics give these a big Nope.


Replicators work on the idea that once you convert something to energy, you can then reconstitute it back as a different kind of matter. Cool, but transporters don’t work, so Nope.


Now we’re getting somewhere. Lots of things a tricorder can do we already have tech for. Infrared meters can read your temperature from a distance. Phones can listen for sounds, and do some basic image stuff too. This idea is based on reality well enough that there’s an X Prize for it.

So: Yup. Eventually, and kinda sorta now.


Please. A device for talking to people over long distances that you have to flip open? What is this, the 2190s?


The idea of teeny tiny machines that can be programmed to do simple tasks doesn’t strike me as being all that far-fetched. We have some basics of this developed now. They’re a far cry from nanites escaping and taking over our (nonexistent) FTL starship, but this field is interesting. I wonder if they could be made generic such that in tandem they can do more complicated tasks. This sounds more like an engineering problem than one of physical laws, so I have to give this one a Maybe.

Force fields

The term force field is pretty generic. If you have a dense (strong) enough magnetic field it can deflect charged subatomic particles (electrons and protons) away from you, so in a sense we have those now. But something that can protect you from the force of an explosion, deflect bullets, and so on? I’m not even really sure how that would work.

But ignorance is no excuse, so to be honest I’ll give this a Maybe, just not according to what we know now.


I love this. YES. In principle, this can be done. You just need to deflect any photon coming at you from any direction so that once it’s past you it continues on in that direction.

Or, you could, for example, surround yourself with a device that can both detect and emit photons. It absorbs a photon, figures out what direction it came from, then finds the emitter on your opposite side and tells it to shoot off a photon of the right energy in the right direction. If you’re sitting still, and the light source isn’t changing, this should work. If you’re moving, then you better have really fast processors on your cloaking computer.

This would be very hard to build, and might be clunky, but it doesn’t violate any laws of physics, so I give this a Yes.

Universal Translator

We already have primitive but sortof effective translators online now. However, these take previously known languages and basically do really fast table lookups of the translations. This won’t work for an unknown language, let alone the squeals, grunts, clicks, whines, buzzes, pheromone exudate, cilia waving, and rapid eye blinks used in alien language. In Trek, that thing basically reads minds, so I’m pretty skeptical. Nope.


An elevator that goes up, down, and sideways? Willy Wonka had one of those in the 1960s.

Tractor Beam

In Next Gen they refer to the tractor beam — a device that can grab distant objects and be used to tow them — as using gravitons. These are theoretical particles that mediate the force of gravity in quantum mechanics, like photons mediate electromagnetism. However, gravitons have never been detected, and may not actually exist, which is a prerequisite for actually, y’know, existing. That doesn’t mean they don’t, it just means that a tractor beam is speculative, so I can’t give it the thumbs-up here. But Maybe, someday.

Artificial Intelligence

This is a funny one. I won’t worry about the existential issues of what intelligence is, because that’s a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down (though in detail it’s important; is intelligence an emergent property of anything that has enough complexity, or is it something that has to be specifically built into the hard/wetware?). But if we accept that humans possess intelligence, can we replicate it in non-human devices?

In principle, I have to say yes. But I wonder if we’re going about it the right way. Our brains simply don’t work like computers, despite the scifi trope. But if we can build machines that process information more like our brains do, then perhaps intelligence will emerge.

I’m no expert, and I’m spitballing here, but clearly it isn’t easy. I’ve been hearing that we’re just 25 years away from true AI for the past 40 years. Every time some breakthrough is made, it shows us that things are still a lot harder than we thought. Still, evolution seems to have done this naturally after just cooking slightly polluted hydrogen for a few billion years. People whose brains work a lot better than mine are working on it, too, and they seem to think it’s possible. So who am I to say no? Until proven otherwise, I’ll go with Maybe.

To Boldly Go…

So where does this leave us? Beats me. But whether the tech or the science of Trek is real or not, I still love the show. And while this stuff is fun to think about, they’re not the point of the show.

The point is the story, and the story is fun.

So: Second star on the right, and straight on ‘til morning. Engage.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Liberal Democrat Newswire logoLiberal Democrat Newswire #67 came out last week, looking (surprise!) at the race to be Liberal Democrat leader.

You can also read it below, but if you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future, just sign up here. It’s free!

Since LDN #67 came out, there’s been further news in the leadership race:

Welcome to the 67th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which includes a special survey for party members about the leadership race and an analysis of the state of play ahead of ballot papers going out on Wednesday, 24 June.Thank you as ever to the generous readers who make a small monthly donation to help cover the costs of Liberal Democrat NewswireYou too can join these kind folk at www.patreon.com/markpack.Best wishes,


P.S. Although the leadership race has been dominating my blog in recent weeks, there’s been time to cover other topics too such as How to lose a seat: a Conservative perspective and Ledges, cliffs and the myth of short-term factors. Or what Ryan Coetzee got right.

In this edition:

Party member? Take part in leadership survey

Member of the Liberal Democrats? Then take part in the exclusive Liberal Democrat Newswire leadership election survey and have your say on what you make of the candidates and contest so far: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/232YB85

More emails about socks than leadership

These are not my socks.

With an expense limit set at £50,000, there is only limited scope for direct one-to-one communications aimed at party members during the Lib Dem leadership contest.

The costs of postage these days leaves little room for doing mailings within that limit, whilst the limitations of the party’s phone number records (and the time phoning 60,000 takes) also curtails that form of direct communication. Emails are being sent out on behalf of the candidates to members, but again the volume is relatively muted thanks to the rules limiting the number. I’ve had as many emails about my latest online socks order as are being sent out in total by the party on behalf of the candidates.

Add to all that only limited media coverage and this all makes for a fairly ‘low information’ campaign – which helps explain why so many members report coming out of a hustings meeting impressed by both candidates and still not quite sure who to vote for. There isn’t a lot of information to go on for most members – and matters aren’t helped by the stultifying format for official hustings, which minimises the chances of revelations in the Q+A sessions.

What’s more, with his enthusiastic embrace of the party’s decision to go into coalition, and an intent to go into coalition again in future, Tim Farron is leaving very little space between himself and Norman Lamb on the big strategic issues.

Even on what should be the contentious question of how much time the party spends talking about the past – defending its record on coalition – compared to moving on, both Farron and Lamb say much the same, defending the past and making references to how events since the election show the party was right all along – with the (sometimes even explicit) inference that the voters were wrong and will come to see the error of their ways.

This all should be a contentious question because it’s a hard one to answer: is talking again and again about what the party did just before it got a mammoth kicking from the electorate wise? But would not talking about it be to make the same mistake that Labour made after 2010, leaving its record in government to be framed by the Conservatives instead?

Again, on this Farron and Lamb are in step with mostly interchangeable answers. For the front-runner Tim Farron you can see the tactical smarts in this: why offer up a gap between the two which could threaten his lead? For Norman Lamb it genuinely reflects his views and moving off to an answer clearly different from Farron’s would be a ‘brave’ move. Yet no gap on policy or strategy leaves Farron ahead on oratory and years of gladhanding members. 

That is why Lamb’s campaign is looking for dividing lines elsewhere: talking up issues of personal liberalism – such as same-sex marriage and the right to die – which put in the spotlight Farron’s religious beliefs. It was a smartly done piece of smiling sharp elbows for Norman Lamb to single out Lynne Featherstone in the audience at the London hustings and praise her work on same-sex marriage. Who could object to someone praising a member of the audience? And so what better way to indulge in a bit of positioning of yourself against your fellow candidate than to clothe it in such praise?

Get the latest Lib Dem stories

As well as Liberal Democrat Newswire, you can also get:

  • a daily round up of the new stories posted up on the official Liberal Democrat website, and
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The latter features more chocolate than the former.

If one or both take your fancy, just customise your email settings here.

(Ex)MPs make their views known

In Liberal Democrat Newswire #66 I wrote about the importance of endorsements in the leadership race:

Some in the party love to hate endorsements, yet as Sal Brinton’s victory in the race for Party President showed just a few months ago, they have a powerful impact…

One reason Chris Huhne never became leader was his lack of popularity amongst fellow Parliamentarians – which meant many MPs were quietly busy in their own constituencies, swaying large numbers of members to vote against him. Ex-MPs have less ability to do this than MPs but they are still a big factor.

So far, 20 former or current Lib Dem MPs have backed Tim Farron (17 former, 3 current) but 24 have backed Norman Lamb (23 former, 1 current). That gives Norman Lamb a useful edge although there are enough names in both lists who are controversial enough amongst party members for the full set of names not to be something for either campaign to be too wild about advertising.

Meanwhile, each has scored one media endorsement – Tim Farron from the New Statesman and Norman Lamb from The Independent.

A hint of serious differences on the economy and public services

The leadership race has seen a curious role reversal when it comes to economic policies and public services. One candidate has been forthright in praising the last five years whilst another has been praising centralised national targets backed up by extra public spending.

Yet the most vocal praise for the last five years has, as mentioned above, come from social liberal Tim Farron and the call for targets and public spending (in the form of action on mental health) has come from Orange Booker Norman Lamb.

If nothing else, it shows the limitation of such labels, but it also helps explain why economic policy has featured so little in the disagreements between the candidates so far. Moreover, what little there has been has often been to narrow the gap between them, such as with Tim Farron dropping his previous support for a 50p tax rate.

Look closely, however, and there are substantive differences of which there was a hint at the Local Government Conference hustings where Tim Farron said he’d have been happy to go on the anti-austerity march if it hadn’t clashed with hustings but Norman Lamb avoided answering. Likewise, in their interviews with Liberal Reform, both mention inequality but Tim Farron mentioned it sooner and with greater passionate than Norman Lamb. Both are passionate about equality of opportunity, but there is a difference of instincts on inequality.

Hustings: score draw, which means a win for Farron

I’ve covered in some detail on my website two of the hustings events so far:

  • Lamb pulls off a surprise at Lib Dem hustings, but race is still Farron’s to lose: “[The hustings was] really the leadership race so far in miniature. Norman pulling off the occasional smart move – including the revelation that he threatened to resign as a minister in order to ensure mental health waiting times were introduced – but never opening up enough off a gap for long enough to seriously upset Tim’s position as favourite … Tim Farron also continued [to be more] effusive than Norman about the party’s record in government, praising Nick Clegg strongly and adding: “There is no mileage in repudiating what we have done together”. Tactically smart as critics of coalition have no other candidate to turn to and the party’s new members generally are not critics of it.”
  • There’s a new game at Lib Dem leadership hustings: guess the implausibly shoe-horned answer: “For hardened leadership hustings veterans there is now – aside from the game of ‘how long until the first mention of Malta?’ – the sport of ‘guess the answer’. Both Farron and Lamb have a relatively limited number of points they try to work into each Q+A session even though the questions themselves are ranging quite widely. You can therefore play a game of trying to guess which answer is going to be shoehorned into which not-quite-relevant question as you go – and in Manchester Lamb won the Brazen Shoehorn Award for turning a question about the anti-austerity march in London into an opportunity to talk about cycling policy on the Continent.”

More analysis in my posts on both those hustings.

Don’t miss out!

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Follow the race in more detail

You can read more about the Lamb-Farron contest in the series of posts over on my blog (full archive of posts here), including the fallout from the phone calling controversy that led to Norman Lamb sacking two volunteers from his campaign team and Tim Farron’s forthright support for coalition both in 2010 and in 2020.

Meanwhile the 10 factors I outlined in the last edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire still look to be the ones that’ll determine the race, which is one where Farron is still the frontrunner and it’s his to lose.

That makes each incident where Lamb scores a slight edge – and there have been a few – is really more a missed opportunity for Lamb than a victory for him. A few slight edges aren’t going to be enough and each time it’s only a slight edge that’s one less opportunity left to overturn the race.

With ballot papers only just going out this week, however, there’s time yet for something dramatic to happen: Farron’s the frontrunner, not the shoe-in.

And remember, if you’re a party member then take part in the exclusive Liberal Democrat Newswire leadership election survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/232YB85.

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I hope you’re found this edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire interesting, informative, useful – or all three! Remember you can also follow the Lib Dem leadership race via this Facebook event, where both Farron and Lamb are regularly answering questions from members.

Best wishes and thank you for reading,


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The Big Idea: S.K. Dunstall

Jul. 2nd, 2015 02:28 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

There’s what we know, and what we used to know — and sometimes the latter might be more valuable than the former. What does this have to do with the new novel, Linesman? S.K. Dunstall, the author(s), is ready to explain.


Two images—neither of which made it into Linesman —were precursors to this book.

In the first, we read about an early Comdex or Macworld exhibition where the first Apple Mac was on show. An old man stopped to look at the Mac. He picked up the mouse and moved it in front of the screen to see what would happen. Not surprisingly, nothing did, for this was an early generation trackball mouse that you had to roll along the desk.

The two young guys manning the booth laughed and laughed. For they ‘knew’ the complex, intricate, not-really-natural ways you had to move the mouse around on the desk to make something happen on the screen.

You know what? That old man had the last laugh, for nowadays we use touch screens, which is a lot closer to what he was trying than it is to moving a piece of plastic around perpendicular to the surface.

The second thing that inspired us was an article about old ways of healing which had fallen into disfavour but were coming back, because there was a scientific basis in their use and they worked.  Maggot therapy, where a diabetic woman’s heel became infected and she was close to having her foot amputated. The doctor went along with her request to use live maggots onto the infected skin to eat the necrotic flesh.  It saved her foot. Leeches, used as far back as Ancient Egypt, which are nowadays sometimes used to drain blood from limbs after reconstructive surgery, particularly in places were blood clots form easily.

It was the article on maggots that got us talking one night after dinner (we’d finished eating by then). The old techniques—like the maggots and leeches—are still dismissed by most medical practitioners. Humans don’t look back much. We like to look forward. Unfortunately, it means we lose a lot of knowledge that we once had.

Out of that dinner came one idea that stuck. How little we know and how much we have lost.

More, what if we didn’t know it to start with?

For example, we have no idea what the statues on Easter Island were built for. We can make educated guesses, but we’ll never know for certain. The only people who do know are the people who built them.

History is littered with artefacts we can only guess about.

Take it even further. What if the artefact wasn’t of human origin?

What if the first humans in space found an alien spaceship? A sentient alien spaceship?

Would they recognise it for what it was?

Probably not. Especially not if humans had been slowly expanding outwards on old generation ships that they had cannibalised over the years so they were nothing like the original ships.  They had lost contact with Earth a long time ago.  If the ship was abandoned, how were they to know it was alien? And how could the ship communicate with them, for it wasn’t built to interact with humans?

Going back to our Apple exhibition. Who is more likely to finally communicate with the ship? The two young guys who ‘knew’ that you had to roll the mouse along the table? Or the old man who waved the mouse in front of the screen?

Better yet, a child, still young enough not to question an alien ship talking to her, still young enough to listen when the ‘lines’ on the ship spoke to her.

That young girl was Gila Havortian, and she opened the way to the stars. Instead of travelling at sub-light speed, taking years to get to other worlds, humans learned to clone the lines of the alien ship and jump through the void to get from one place to another instantaneously. They gained instant communication within sectors of space.

Humanity expanded, and was still expanding five hundred years later.

But …

In five hundred years the initial knowledge of what the ship could do—small as it was—would be lost as people discover new ways to use the technology.  Like maggots as medicine, we find better ways to do things.

At the start of Linesman, line ships underpin the galactic economy.  The small number of humans who can ‘feel’ the lines and mend them are in high demand.  Especially the tens, who can fix the full set of ten lines.  Higher level linesmen are contracted to cartel houses and work from there.

Then humans find another alien ship.

Enter Ean, who came into the cartels late and is mostly self-taught. Even though he’s a certified ten, he is more akin to the old man holding the mouse up to the screen than he is to the young kids who ‘know’ what to do because they’ve been shown.


Linesman: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the authors’ site. Read their blog. Follow them on Twitter.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Now, OK, this is rather tin foil hat time but what if the breakdown of the Greek debt negitiations is not because Tsipras and Syriza didn’t understand where the troika’s red lines were? What if they knew and understood where they were and what they are? And then made absolutely certain that every offer made managed to go over those red lines and thus ensure that no agreement was reached? Meaning that they’ve been working from the beginning to get to the state we’re in now? Greece has defaulted and looks likely to be on its way out of the euro?

Yes, I know, stop looking at me funny like that. But I’m not the only person beginning to think along these lines. Here’s Simon Nixon at the Wall Street Journal:

How much of Alexis Tsipras’s tactics in the past five months have been driven by incompetence and how much by conspiracy? It’s a question even the historians may never fully resolve.

The Greek Prime Minister said in a televised statement that those accusing him of having a deliberate plan to take Greece out of the eurozone were telling lies. But what is certain is that if Mr. Tsipras had set out in January to take Greece out of the eurozone, it is very hard to think of anything he would have done differently.

Nixon goes on to ponder whether Tsipras and Syriza wanted to be out of the euro (something which I’ve repeatedly said I think would be a good idea) but that they also knew that the Greek populace didn’t want to be. So, the only way to get to their desired end state is to make it look like Greece was being forced out. And thus making sure that the negotiations never reached the point at which the troika would agree.

Now of course there’s no actual evidence of this but then that’s what makes conspiracy theories so much fun. We get to pile up the circumstantial evidence as we desire.

But now let me add another layer of such speculations and to do so let us start from the very beginning. Tsipras and Syriza are pretty hard left, even by European standards. Meaning they are a long, long, way to the left of anything that’s considered polite society in the US. Within Syriza there’s the Left Platform and, remarkably for a modern European government, there’s actually a couple of real Maoists in there too (Barroso, who went on to become EU Commission President, only played at being a Maoist when young, these people really mean it). At least one current Syriza MP used to write for The Guardian and he was all over ideas like a publicly owned banking system and the like.

And in that sort of European hard left there’s perhaps an admission that maybe the State shouldn’t be owning all the industry: but owning a considerable portion of the banking system would enable “investment” to be “directed” to where it is “socially useful” rather than purely allocated on the grounds of profit as capitalism would have it. The inverted commas are there because we all know that what happens after the first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm: it’s the friends of those allocating the loans that get the loans from their friends. The economy descends into an orgy of cronyism.

Still some people do believe this sort of thing and those that do tend to be, in Europe, on that hard left. That Spains’ cajas used to be run in this manner and then they all went bust doesn’t seem to stop the enthusiasm.

OK, so, assuming the CIA isn’t beaming this into my tin foil hat, how would someone manage to get to a position where the government owned the banks? Well, you can always nationalize them. But that brings with it the unfortunate necessity to pay for them. At the full market value before you decided to nationalize them. Which is expensive. So, if you were really convinced that you could only usher in the new dawn (not New Dawn, that’s another group of Greek politicians) by being in control of the banking system, what would you do?

Well, what I would have done, starting in January, is string out the negotiations over the debt. Because I know that if the debt problem isn’t solved then the real crunch point will come when the banks are drained of their deposits. At which point the ECB will stop the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), and then the banks will be bust. And I, the government, will have to recapitalize those banks.

However, the only way I can do that is by issuing a new currency: for I don’t have the ability to create euros. And everyone will cheer when I do recapitalize the banks: because everyone agrees that we must have a banking system if we’re going to have an advanced economy of any form at all.


Also on Forbes:


At which point my plan has come to fruition, hasn’t it? I’ve now managed to get Greece out of the euro and I also own, as the government, that entire banking system. Sure, everyone will expect me to privatise it at some point but there’s nothing to say that I have to. And they will all just have cheered me on as I purchase those banks for nothing plus the cost of covering their losses. Something I do just by printing more of the new currency I’ve just created.

Yes, agreed, it’s all speculation of the highest order, there’s nothing other than those radio waves hitting the antenna on my beanie hat to suggest that this has actually been planned this way. But a month ago I would have said that I was 100% certain that this was entirely untrue. Now I’m only 99.9% certain that it’s entirely untrue. And the horrible thing is, if you really did want to bring about a state directed economy along the lines that at least some of Europe’s hard left do desire, this is how you would go about engineering it. You’d have to be out of the euro and thus free of the Maastricht criteria. And you’d need to own the banking system at the lowest possible cost: buying it when it’s bankrupt obviously meets that.

No, I don’t think it is true: but wouldn’t it be fascinating if it were. And it does explain all of the moves that have been made….as well as not being a million miles away from the way the Communists took power over the economy in 1946-1949 in Central Europe. Bankrupt things by bureaucratic fiat and then take them over in the name of saving them.

No, that’s the tin foil speaking again, isn’t it?

Opinion: Getting diverse in the arts

Jul. 2nd, 2015 02:15 pm
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Posted by Zack Polanski

Last month, I was invited by my friend Danny Lee  Wynter to an event he had organised at the National Theatre called Act for Change. It’s a movement that was set up in response to a TV Advert in 2014 which trailed the upcoming season of TV but failed to feature a single BAME performer or disabled artist. AfC campaigns on a platform that the arts are for everyone, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age or disability, and they should reflect the societies we live in. Sound familiar to problems in any other places of work?

The event at the National was wonderful, eye opening and angry all in different measures. Chaired by Shami Chakrabati with a host of interesting voices on the panel including the actor Adrian Lester who told a wonderful story about his daughter commenting on the lack of diversity among Hobbits whilst they watched together the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He tried to reason with her until she pointed out an exact passage in Tolkein’s books in which the hobbits are described as being dark skinned which had just been ignored in the casting process.

I think Phyllida Lloyd summed the situation up best in the event when she answered a question by saying:

I don’t think there’s any big conspiracy to keep older women off the stage – I just don’t think the straight, white, middle aged men who run our theatre companies miss us when we’re not there.

The National seemed an appropriate place to have this meeting as although Rufus Norris, the new artistic director, is absolutely making the right noises about diversity – he still doesn’t have a single BAME associate on his team. For a company who are publically funded to represent the voices of our nation, that’s quite a staggering fact. It’s not just the National, though – between all of London’s theatres, there’s only 5 BAME associates between them. It’s almost like being the party championing diversity with only 8 male, white, straight MP’s.

It’s come to mind in several hustings in the last month when I’ve heard Tim Farron suggest that if his diary for the next day was made up of meeting 10 people who looked and sounded like him, then he should ‘bloomin well rip the diary up and start again.’ Quite.

I think both in the Arts, in politics and indeed in most areas of life the danger of not knowing what you don’t know will always be there unless you actively seek every day, indeed in every decision, to actively seek out diversity. It’s not good enough to suggest that not enough people are into politics or aren’t performing as well as they could – it’s up to those of us who are involved to inspire and empower others into taking action. And to actively seek out difference.

Guardian reviewer Matt Trueman, a colleague and friend who I’ve worked with nearly a decade ago when diversity was even worse in the Arts, suggests in an article that the solution is simple:

The thing is, this particular issue is very easily solvable – even if it doesn’t immediately solve the overall lack of diversity. These are pro-rata (in some cases unpaid) positions and there’s no limit on the number of associates a theatre might have on its staff. Nor is there any need to circumvent employment or make staff redundant to level the situation out. It’s simply a matter of making an appointment or two. We could have proportional representation at associate level by the end of the summer. There’s really no excuse.

The baton is well and truly down for the Arts and I look forward in London particular to working as best I can to keep pushing the issue on to the agenda. The smart and socially just thing for politics and in particular our party is to lead the way first.

* Zack Polanski is a Liberal Democrat member in Holborn and St Pancras

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Nearly 10,000 supporters delivered a jolt of momentum to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign Wednesday night at a supersize rally where the senator from Vermont asked his backers to help him create a political revolution.

Mr. Sanders, the upstart Democratic presidential candidate who has steadily been gaining ground in the polls but remains a distinct underdog, outlined an unabashedly liberal agenda for the raucous Wisconsin crowd, advocating a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a single-payer health-care system and free tuition at public universities.

In Madison, Mr. Sanders was greeted by a roaring crowd that filled a 10,000 seat arena to the rafters. He told supporters that this was the largest rally yet for any candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Tonight, we have made a little bit of history,” Mr. Sanders said.

Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, drew about 5,500 supporters to New York’s Roosevelt Island when she kicked off her campaign last month.

I’d even put up with his policy ideas….after all, I don’t have to live with them or pay for them….if he were to beat the Wicked Witch.

Poverty & ideology

Jul. 2nd, 2015 02:49 pm
[syndicated profile] chris_dillow_feed

Posted by chris

Iain Duncan Smith wants to shift the definition of child poverty from one based upon low incomes to one based on educational attainment, worklessness and addiction.

What's at stake here is, as Amelia Gentleman points out, an ideological issue: is poverty due to individual failings or to the structure of society?

Of course, some parents of poor children are feckless workshy druggies. But in a population of 64.6 million people, pretty much anything is true of someone.

Two big facts, however, suggest that the link between child poverty and parental failure is weak. One comes from the DWP's own report:

Children  in  families where at least one adult was in work made up around 64 per cent of all children  in  low  income  [before housing costs]  in  2013/14 (p46 of this pdf).

Think what it means to be in work. It means you've impressed an employer sufficiently to get hired, and you are managing to turn up roughly on time most days. You have, in short, got your shit together. And yet you're still unable to get your family out of relative poverty.

Secondly, Andrew Dickerson and Gurleen Popli point out that there is zero correlation between material child poverty and a measure of parental involvement based upon facts such as whether parents read to their children or given them regular meal times and bed times. There is, therefore, no link between bad parenting (on this measure) and material poverty.

These two facts suggest another, bigger reason for child poverty. Quite simply, it has become harder for less skilled people to provide for their families. For someone at the 25th percentile of weekly wages, real wages are 6% lower now than they were as far back as 1997*.

In this sense, obstinately high child poverty has its roots in developments in the labour market. Whether it be because of mass unemployment**, deindustialization, the offshoring of low-skilled work, technical change or whatever, the fact is that things have gotten tougher for what used to be called the respectable poor in the last 40-odd years.

It is this fact that Duncan Smith seems to want to gloss over. From the point of view of the ruling class, it is better to question the character of the poor than the health of capitalism. And, sadly, I fear he might succeed in this aim: the egocentric bias means many voters like to think well of themselves and hence less well of others. There will therefore be an audience for slanders against the poor.

However, facts are facts however you try to change the language. You can define your cow as a horse but it still won't win the Derby.

* According to ASHE, gross weekly earnings for the 25th percentile have risen 53.6% since 1997 (when their data begins) whilst the RPI has risen 63.6%: I suspect RPI is a better measure than CPI as it includes housing costs.   

** There are 1.81 million officially unemployed, plus 1.3m part-timer workers who want full-time work, plus 2.34m economically "inactive" who want a job. That's a total of 5.45 million.   

Another thing: insofar as some poor parents are lazy, there's a question of endogeneity: is the laziness a cause of poverty or is it instead an adaptive preference - a response to their belief that they can't find work?   


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Mat Bowles

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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.

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