A Really Bad Idea

April 9th, 2014

Charlie Stross has yet another bad idea:

Now, it occurs to me that the Republican Party over in the USA have a bit of a problem coming up in 2016, namely who to run against Barack Obama's successor. Whoever they are. (Hilary is looking a little old and Al's cardboard has mildew.) But the RNC isn't in good shape. They don't have anybody out front with the charisma of the Gipper (dead or alive), or the good ole' boy appeal of George W. Bush: just a bunch of old white guys in dark suits who're obsessed with the size of their wallets and the contents of every woman's uterus, or vice versa. Guys who make Karl Rove look like Johnny Depp.

And so it occurred to me (after my fifth pint of IPA) to spin my speculative political satire around the fact that there is only one man on the global political scene today who has what it takes to be a plausible Republican candidate for President Of The United States at the next presidential election. […]

The name he's come up with isn't remotely feasible as an actual candidate for president, but then that's not exactly the point, is it?

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Spin, spin, spin…

February 12th, 2014

From the [pen|keyboard] of The Yorkshire Ranter: Dave from PR in the French Revolution

Being a Salmagundi from the Talking-Pointes of the late Sieur Davide du Camerone, Gentleman of the Privy and Counsellier upon the Fourth Estate to his most Catholic Majesty, the late King Louis XVI

An unexpectedly large forecast error in the Budget leads Finance Minister Necker to call an emergency Estates-General:

We’re all in this together. Only a balanced parliament reflecting the national consensus to deal with the debt can keep us from ending up like Spain. M. Colbert didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining, but His Majesty is determined to get our finances in surplus by 1792. That’s on a rolling five-year cash basis excluding interventions in North America and royal mistresses.

[…]

[FX: Applause]

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Simon Hoggart

January 6th, 2014

Today's Guardian commemorated the passing of their parliamentary sketch writer Simon Hoggart by reprinting some of his finer moments. I always liked Hoggart best when he turned his attention to some of the less consequential figures From the back benches:

"Does Sir Peter Tapsell actually exist? I ask the question following his own question – nay, speech – on Wednesday, which was magnificent. It could have been a pastiche of the perfect Tapsell address.

I imagined his words being carved into tablets of polished black basalt, mounted in the British Museum, etched dee

p so that even the partially sighted can feel their way to his eternal wisdom.

Possibly Sir Peter is a mass thought form, created by Tory MPs, for whom he recalls their party as it used to be, and Labour MPs, who wish that it still was. Certainly it is true that the whole House looks forward keenly, yearningly, to his every word.

When the Father of the House arose in the middle of prime minister's questions, a great throb of excitement ran along all benches, rather like the moment in a Victorian seance when the eerie manifestation of a dead Red Indian appeared above the fireplace. This moment of glee was followed, as it always is, by a hushed and expectant silence."

- 14 September 2011

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Refusing to be 'useful'

January 5th, 2014

I can't remember where I found a link to this, but the Columbia Journalism Review's profile of my favourite internet sceptic, Evgeny vs. the internet Is well worth a read:

Evgeny Morozov wants to convince us that digital technology can't save the world, and he's willing to burn every bridge from Cambridge to Silicon Valley to do it.

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Oh, (Little) England…

December 31st, 2013

The Daily Mail in a Nutshell:

DAILY MAIL IN A NUTSHELL: Top rated comment - refuses to read... on Twitpic

[Via Memex 1.1]

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The Bible Tells Me So…

December 31st, 2013

The Bible Tells Me So:

Everything He said...

[Via Slacktivist]

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No viable candidates anywhere out there right now

December 6th, 2013

Not for the first time, The Onion nails it:

JOHANNESBURG – Following the death of former South African president and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela today at the age of 95, sources confirmed that the revered humanitarian has become the first politician in recorded history to actually be missed. [...]

[Via scott_sanford, commenting at More Words, Deeper Hole]

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If you were waiting for someone to lean in for child care legislation, keep holding your breath.

September 25th, 2013

Susan Faludi in The Baffler, on Leaning In:

The scene at the [Lean In event addressed by Sheryl Sandberg at the] Menlo Park auditorium, and its conflation of "believe in yourself" faith and material rewards, will be familiar to anyone who's ever spent a Sunday inside a prosperity-gospel megachurch or watched Reverend Ike's vintage "You Deserve the Best!" sermon on YouTube. But why is that same message now ascendant among the American feminists of the new millennium?

Sandberg's admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women's equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women's equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. In embodying that contradiction, Sheryl Sandberg would not be alone and isn't so new. For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism.

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When Harry Met Ayn

September 10th, 2013

When Harry Met Ayn: A Laissez-faire to Remember.

When Harry Met Ayn

Oh my.

[Via Pop Loser]

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Why The Sharing Economy Isn't

August 31st, 2013

Tom Slee is unimpressed by an attempt to hijack the 'sharing economy' for the benefit of venture capitalists:

So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: "a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement." I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech (in quotation marks) in its entirety with comments from yours truly.

[...]

Now why should you do this? Well it's the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, "the sharing economy saved my arse".

The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it's the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become "extra money" just like women's jobs used to be "extra money", and like those jobs they don't come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you're not an employee, you're a micro-entrepreneur. And you're not doing it for the money, you're doing it for the experience. We just assume you're making a living some other way.

[...]

Well worth reading in full.

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'Our security forces have it back'?!?

August 21st, 2013

Novelist and former MP Louise Mensch, demonstrating her deep understanding of how digital technology works:

Louise Mensch on data security

She probably thinks the Guardian no longer has access to the files on that laptop too.

Actually, cancel that. I'm sure she's perfectly well aware that digital data can be – and in this case, was – backed up. To my mind, she's just doing her bit to help the government to deflect the focus of the discussion away from the Guardian's story and the doings of the surveillance state and on to the government's preferred law-and-order/keeping-us-safe-from-terrorists/nothing-to-hide, nothing-to-fear agenda.

[Via Charlie's Diary]

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BUGGER

August 10th, 2013

Adam Curtis on the awful truth about spies:

The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.

That the spies know what they are doing.

It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.

It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.

But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. [...]

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Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship

July 29th, 2013

One for readers in the UK: the Open Rights Group invites you to sign their petition telling David Cameron to Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship.

Dear David Cameron,

Everyone agrees that we should try to protect children from harmful content. But asking everyone to sleepwalk into censorship does more harm than good.

Filters won't stop children seeing adult content and risks giving parents a false sense of security. It will stop people finding advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships. This isn't just about pornography. Filters will block any site deemed unsuitable for under 18s.

Please drop these plans immediately.

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Austerity

June 16th, 2013

Mark Blyth does a marvelous job of dismantling the notions that Austerity is Good For Us and It's What We All Deserve for Being Spendthrift in Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea:

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Intensifying the contradictions

June 1st, 2013

Agent Gideon Goes Rogue:

Nikolai strolled into the stuffy office where the older man stood waiting behind a desk which had stood in the same spot back in Stalin's day. The older man – Colonel Rakhmetov – gestured him brusquely to a seat in front of him, sat down himself, looked up and said "Sit".

The Colonel glared at him. "The plan for Agent Gideon began under Brezhnev. Do you have any idea of the resources required to place a mole at the heart of the British establishment, trained from birth to further the cause of Communism? So can you tell me what, precisely, is happening in that miserable backwater right now?" [...]

[Via The Browser]

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Ding and indeed Dong

April 11th, 2013

Martin Belam, QFT:

Just a thought. I reckon anybody writing a comment piece about whether the BBC should play Judy Garland and "Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead" as part of the chart run-down at the weekend should be forced to name the current #1 single before they are allowed to hit publish…

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Thank the Academy

March 21st, 2013

Thank the Academy: A visualization of how Oscar winners express gratitude.

Thanked at length...

I have to be honest: that's one of the more straightforward charts on the site. The interactive charts that really let you slice and dice the data are where the action is, but they can't be properly represented by a dinky screenshot over here.

You really should go and have a play for yourself. You can view the differences in the content of speeches and even the behaviour of the recipient, then view the differences between eras, or between different classes of award winner. It's a very well done site.

I'd love to see someone apply these same techniques and style of presentation to another corpus taken from an annual event with a bit of a history to it. Say, Budget speeches by Chancellors of the Exchequer over the last 50 years, or party leaders' speeches to their party conference. Granted, you couldn't do much with an analysis by gender of either of those data sets – what with any analysis by gender of the relevant UK data sets having Margaret Thatcher on one side of the stats and generation after generation of middle aged men on the other – but there would be all sorts of illuminating ways to break the data down.

One think I can confidently predict: those sorts of data sets would provide fewer opportunities to tally the number of speakers who burst into tears during their speech. Also, some poor devil would have to sit through recordings of each speech taking detailed notes, and I'm pretty sure that'd be a lot less entertaining – a lot less glamorous, certainly – than watching 50 years of excerpts from the Oscars.

Getting back to the more glamorous data set, the site will even tell you who has been thanked by name most frequently in acceptance speeches by directors, leading and supporting actors and actresses.1

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. I'll give you a clue. He's still active in the industry today. As is his brother.

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Flop sweat

February 16th, 2013

@AlbertBrooks:

I didn't see Marco Rubio's speech but I just got a residual check.

[Here's the context, for those of you who aren't American politics junkies. If you don't know why Albert Brooks would be connected with Marco Rubio, go and watch Broadcast News. You won't regret it.]

[Via The New Yorker]

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22 years

February 10th, 2013

Why My Bloody Valentine's 'mbv' Has Come Too Late To Stop The End Of The World:

Thanks Kevin. Thanks a fucking bunch for taking 22 years to make a record that could have saved the world. All you had to do was make a bunch of songs that sound like being hit on the head with a shovel after doing poppers while listening to a melancholy whale sighing. But you couldn't be bothered and now we're all going to die in planet wide nuclear annihilation.

[Via The Null Device]

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Poison(ed)

February 1st, 2013

Being a statistician, a feminist and a fan of the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hilary Parker couldn't resist investigating whether it's true that the name Hilary/Hillary is the most poisoned baby name in US history.

A lot of screen-scraping and many R sessions later, she shares her conclusions and reasoning with the rest of us, As a bonus, she explores fascinating side issues, like the reasons why some names saw short-lived leaps in popularity:

For each of the names that "dropped in" I did a little research on the name and the year. "Dewey" popped up in 1898 because of the Spanish-American War – people named their daughters after George Dewey "Deneen" was one name of a duo with a one-hit wonder in 1968. "Katina" and "Catina" were wildly popular because in 1972 in the soap opera Where the Heart Is a character is born named Katina. "Farrah" became popular in 1976 when Charlie's Angels, starring Farrah Fawcett, debuted (notice that the name becomes popular in 2009 when Farrah Fawcett died).

I couldn't resist doing a quick-and-dirty search across the data files on the relative frequency of given names in the population of U.S. births where the individual has a Social Security Number1. It appears that in 2008 and 2009 the name 'Barack' saw a tenfold rise in popularity compared to 2007 (albeit from a small base):

Screen shot

Interestingly, no hits came up for the name 'Barack' in the files representing years prior to 2007. Could it be that I've uncovered evidence, from data files supplied by his very own Administration, that Obama wasn't born on American soil after all?2

[Via Waxy.org: Links Miniblog]

  1. Downloadable here.
  2. You'll be shocked to hear that the answer to that question is a resounding No. To quote from the documentation that accompanied the data files: "To safeguard privacy, we restrict our list of names to those with at least 5 occurrences." So 2007 – when Obama was a first-term US Senator – was merely the first year the name was given to as many as 5 children.

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