The Snow In The Summer or So-So

Knowledge is liberation


I once offended a man by telling him what he did to me was rape (it was). His feelings don't make it any less rape.

7 October 2017
Our Town

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 4 October

Our Town is a difficult play to do badly - if everyone knows their lines, it'll work. But it's a very difficult play to do well, and each of the audience will have their own idea of what "well" is.

This was a stylised performance. Audience and actors sit round tables, and later around the edge of the stage. They're on plastic chairs, as found in school halls and waiting rooms everywhere.

The cast use their natural accents, we have a token Yank as the Stage Manager, lots of Manchester-area, a Scouse, some RP. Standout actors: Youssef Kerkour is the Stage Manager, a role that has to command the stage and never overshadow it. Get this right and you're on the road to greatness. Patrick Elue and Norah Lopez Holden are the heroes of the play, the romance of George and Emily.

The Exchange is a theatre in the round, and it allows for lots of pacing around the stage. Lots of pacing around the stage. Unusually, the Exchange theatre stands in a greater hall, and can be circumnavigated from the outside. At one point, we see George running outside the hall, his shadow appearing on the canvas walls.

(More: The company got a lot right in this play, we concentrate on design flaws that stopped it from being even better)

The production misses the Scylla of schmaltz, but we found it sailed into the Charybdis of meh. "Take me back! Take me back!" emotes Emily, but it's not the emotional catharsis we're here for. There are enough distractions to jolt us out of our reverie, enough to concentrate on the mechanics and not the plot.

This blog doesn't make a habit of awarding "marks out of ten", or "stars". People concentrate on the score, not the content. That said, we don't quite see a path to four-stars out of five, unless there's a very generous piece of rounding from around three-and-a-half.

Overall, this take on Our Town hit the big notes. It got the whole faith in humanity, it emphasised the importance of small detail. Problems with design and staging meant it didn't pack the emotional whoomph we came for.

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4 October 2017
More United - more radical?

Back on 21 September, a group of ten in a room above Cherry Reds in Birmingham city centre. It was very much a masculine-of-centre group, not representative of the membership. We're summing this under Chatham House rules: opinions will be attributed to an unnamed individual.

Discussion was dominated by four contributors. One was new to More United, and was hung up on the balance of power in Westminster. "We need to hold the balance of power," his persistant cry.

This blog believes that More United would be best to design structures that can last. If it builds processes around the present balanced parliament, there is a danger of setting bad practice in stone.

The contributor appeared to see supporting More United as a binary, in-or-out, proposition. This blog sees shades of belonging. Perhaps it might be helpful to have a "More United charter", analagous to Charter 88. Candidates could put their names to this set of values. We the people could ask dissenting candidates what value they don't support.

Would it be possible to make funding contingent on plugging More United? Well, yes, but how does one police this? If Wera Hobhouse mentions More United on Peston on Sunday and no-one watches, does it still count?

For this blog, and for other contributors, the best publicity is a concrete win. Pick something More United can mobilise towards, strain every effort to bring it about, and take ownership of the victory.

More United's assets are cash, people on the ground, digital campaigns, and general goodwill. At the moment, it feels like a motherhood-and-apple-pie group, a safe space that will threaten no-one. On reflection, maybe it needs to show steel, make waves on a controversial matter.

Fundamentally, we're worried about More United. This blog is involved to bring about change, to dismantle shit and rebuild a geniune democracy that might tempt us to remain. We're not convinced that our goals can be achieved within the Westminster straitjacket.

(A full write-up)

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15 September 2017
When 4-0 reverses to 1-4, according to the NCAA

There's been a lot of snark about how Southern California does not recognise its 2006 title game loss to Texas. "We don't do this in football," sniggers The Comeback.

Tell that to the NCAA, which requires history to be entirely re-written.

(More: We actually read the judgement and laws, in a way other "journalists" don't)

The net result is quite simple, and utterly confusing. There's no doubt that SCALF beat TEXAS four times in the past, and that TEXAS won on the field in 2006. But SCALF is bound to ignore that loss, they're required to pretend the game never happened. Their media guide correctly lists them as 4-0 in games they're allowed to count.

But TEXAS is not bound by any such injunction. It will count all five games against SCALF, including the 2006 win. Texas's media guide - for the same game, against the same opponent - says they're 1-4, the precise reverse of 4-0.

The fault here is with the NCAA, and its absurd desire to pretend that history can be re-written to fit later fashion. The NCAA has told SCALF to vacate its wins and its postseason competition. SCALF is following these orders exactly and precisely, to the letter.

The absurdity stems from the NCAA.

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12 September 2017
Song of the summer 2017

Time to push the buttons and work out Northern Europe's Hit Song of Summer 2017.

This feature is inspired by the North American obsession with naming the song of the summer. Sean Ross lampoons the mania, variously naming Praying, Despacito, There's nothing holdin' me back, Stay, Body like a back road, Feels, and Feel it still to various categories.

(More: Positions 20-6 and a note on our methodology.)

05 attention  -  charlie puth
04 there's nothing holdin' me...  -  shawn mendes
03 2u f/justin bieber  -  david guetta

Charlie Puth did one better than Calvin Harris, pushing out his single at the end of April. It's remained in or around the top ten all summer, never quite hitting the A-list, but adding up lots of points each week. Shawn Mendes spent most of the summer at the weekly number 4, first below then above Guetta and Bieber. Yeah, three Justin Bieber songs in the top fourteen.

02 mama f/william singe  -  jonas blue

Remarkably close for places 4, 3, 2 - less than 3% covers the three tunes. For our money, this was the inescapable song of the summer. Bright and bubbly, but completely vapid.

01 despacito  -  luis fonsi / daddy yankee

But this was the best-charted song of the year, the Latin-tinged love song with something for everyone. Didn't do much for us, but it won by about 14% over the next three.

If you must combine the two Despacitae, then it wins by a mile, and Miley Cyrus's Malibu ranks at 21. That's another of our faves, and it might just be the summer song to come out of 2017.

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9 September 2017
Jerry Pournelle

The death occurred yesterday of Jerry Pournelle.

Sci-fi author, though never crossed our radar. Computer journalist, but Byte was too expensive and something we could only flick through in Smiths.

Jerry Pournelle entered our life in 2000, when we stumbled across his daybook. This could be the answer to our writer's block, a less structured, more organic way to document things. Seventeen years later, we're still following the basic structure. Pournelle had a voice, and we thank him for helping find ours.

He leaves many acolytes, a special tip of the hat to Dave Farquhar. Jerry Pournelle also leaves a method of political thinking (belief in state control, orthogonal to belief in rational solutions) and an Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people.

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

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2 September 2017
When Edinburgh drops it

Our starter is this little conversation.

shinydh: I am genuinely interested in what happens when Philip dies, assuming he does so before Lizzie. We know Lizzie coverage will be smothering but Philip? His death would be a good litmus test for the reaction of British society and media in my opinion.

The_Arn: Probably similar to the Queen Mother I'd say.

shinydh: ...which would have been a heck of a lot more smothering a year earlier. If memory serves BBC explicitly dialled down those plans post-9/11.

Our contemporaneous notes recall that BBC1 gave over about three-and-a-half hours of breaking news and tributes. Opinion in BBC News sees this as an error. Roger Mosey, the head of news in 2002, said a better response would have been to put up a short (5 minute) obituary, repeat the news, give any fast-breaking reaction, and then go to a mid-length (15 minute) obituary. That basically buys the newsroom half an hour to line up guests and look serene.

(More: Reflections on Liz Bowes-Lyon and Margaret Thatcher)

The main change from 2002 is that all viewers have choice. If people want to watch BBC Dead Duke 24, it will be available. If they want to ignore it, many commercial channels will line up. Semi-major channels like ITV2 and E4 could well run without much change, except perhaps during the day of the funeral.

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25 August 2017
How good was Yougov's election model?

Duncan Stott asked if anyone has done a proper bit of research into Yougov's projection. "No" is the answer, even after this effort.

We've used the initial release of data from Yougov, dated 2 June. While our analysis is done with the right tool (SPSS), we're almost certainly using the wrong investigation techniques, and we've only spent an hour on this topic.

Correlations from Yougov projections to the final result:

Con .979
Lab .981
LD  .964
UKP .805
Grn .903
SNP .843
PC  .961
Oth .963

As we would expect, strong confidence in the two biggest parties, slightly weaker for the LD. Something of a hefty miss for the SNP and for UKIP.

The Yougov model seemed to cap the LD vote at about 35% in any constituency. This puts an artificial ceiling on their performance, and costs a number of seats.

For comparison, here's the correlation between 2015 vote and 2017 vote for each party:

C   .931
Lab .966
LD  .904
UKP .815
G   .768
SNP .852
PC  .965
Oth .754

Overall, Yougov has met or exceeded a hypothesis that "2015 predicts 2017 exactly".

Error watch

Yougov called the wrong winner in only 48 seats. What caused the errors? Primarily, not being held by Con or Lab; Yougov was wrong in 21/67 such cases.

Three seats went from "Con likely" to "Lab gain". Colne Valley, Warwick and Leamington, Portsmouth South. All were marked by a great increase in the Labour vote - from the LD in Portsmouth, from not voting in the other seats.

Mansfield went in the opposite direction, from "Lab likely" to "Con gain".

Orkney & Shetland is another big miss, projected as a C gain with 8% for UKIP. The result was a comfortable LD hold, with UKIP less than 2%. But it's a unique constituency, both in terms of Scotland and the entire election.


Yougov will want to focus attention on the surprises they did predict (Lab gains in Canterbury, Kensington and Chelsea, a close race in Hastings and Rye), and not on the big errors (underestimating UKIP in Thurrock, missing the LD gain in Bath, bigging up a Ind gain in East Devon).

From these initial investigations, we reckon Yougov worked well within the Butler model. They did well where the ConLab dominated discussion and votes. In a ConLab election, this was enough to look roughly right.

We're not convinced that they fully appreciated the swing from "No vote" to Labour. It is possible that this was corrected in later releases - we are working from the 2 June release, a week before the final score.

Yougov's performance in other areas was patchy, and we have no evidence on whether their model will work with three or more major parties.

Further research is needed.

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15 August 2017
Not Dogs

A fast food restaurant in Birmingham Bull Ring.

Hot dogs, but not as you know them. Instead of a piece of dead pig in the middle, they use a special Quorn sausage. Eight inches of non-meaty sausage, wrapped in a plain bun.

The good news: these sausages are a special order. Not the normal bland Quorn sausage, these have some spice and taste. Good news for vegans, as the range is entirely free of animal produce (assuming you don't put cheese on top...) Service is fast - it was less than three minutes from order to service.

We got the version with ketchup, cheese, mustard, and caramel onion. Not sure this was the best choice: the sweet onion was the dominant taste, and we didn't much enjoy it. It overpowered all the more subtle flavours, as we confirmed near the end of the dog. A less-seasoned topping might be the way forward.

Also got the waffle fries, a generous portion size. Served without salt (good), but the ones we got proved more soggy than ideal. We like our fries to be crisp, and our onion to have some crunch; Not Dogs lacked the firmness we craved.

The meal is just over £8: somewhat more expensive than mass-market meaty burger places in the Bull Ring, but cheaper than most posh cafes there. For what it is, it's filling, and we have the glow from supporting a local business on ethical lines.

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