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26 Mar 20:49

New poll finds increasing support for a second referendum with 66% of REMAIN voters now wanting one

by Mike Smithson

But overall most of those sampled continue to be against

Keiran Pedley looks at new poll numbers from the Polling Matters / Opinium series ahead of the Prime Minister invoking Article 50 this week.

Listeners to this week’s (revamped) PB/Polling Matters podcast (see below) will know that we have a new survey out this week. Our most recent poll tracks public opinion on last year’s Brexit vote. In December, we asked a nationally representative sample of the British public whether they thought there should be another vote on EU membership once the terms of divorce are known and we asked the same question again last weekend.

In some ways the results offer something for everyone. At a headline level, a majority are opposed to another referendum, with exactly the same number in opposition now as were opposed in December (52%). This is primarily because Leave voters continue to be committed to the decision they made last year. However, there has been a 5 point increase in the overall number in favour of another vote. This appears to be driven by those that said ‘don’t know’ in December now saying that they support another referendum with Remainers particularly consolidating behind such a position.

Q. Once we know what terms the government has negotiated, should there be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, where voters can choose between leaving under the terms negotiated or remaining in the EU after all?

Now for a number of reasons we shouldn’t get too exercised by these findings. These results could be a one-off and there is little sign of consistent Brexit regret in opinion polls. Theresa May certainly has no interest in holding another referendum and the Labour Party is not calling for one (despite some 60% of their voters in favour). However, we should still keep an eye on these numbers. If this trend is real and continues then expect someone of signifance in the Labour Party to come out in support in the future. In any case, if the opinion of the Remain vote is hardening on this subject, the potential for that group of people being a significant organised political force in the longer term only grows.

Incidentally, a fascinating subplot in Britain’s political future will be how the opinion of Millennials evolves on this issue. 53% of 18-34s support another vote with just 34% opposing. Now this shouldn’t surprise given what we know about the composition of the Remain vote in 2016. The question is whether such attitudes will change as these voters get older or are they set in stone (as they are on certain cultural issues)? If they are, expect the issue of Britain’s position in Europe be a live one long beyond we have officially left the EU.

Article 50 brings sky-high expectations

Turning our attention to this week, our poll also asked how confident the British public is on the type of Brexit deal May and the government will deliver:

How confident are you that Theresa May and the British government will be able to negotiate a Brexit deal that is good for the UK?

49% Confident

41% Not confident

 10% Don’t know

Expectations here are split in ways you would expect that I won’t therefore dwell on e.g. Remain vs Leave, Labour vs Conservative, young vs old and so on. However, what is striking is the confidence of Leave voters. Some 72% are confident a ‘good deal’ can be delivered. Now what a ‘good deal’ tangibly means to them and whether May can meet those expectations is going to be critical for her political survival. Meanwhile, we should also pay attention to the one area of the UK with the lowest confidence in any Brexit deal. That is Scotland where 62% are pessimistic that a ‘good deal’ can be reached. Ominous signs.

Much is made of the apparent finality of the 2016 vote in terms of the European question. It may very well be so given the state of the Labour Party right now. But I can’t help but feel that things could change and change quickly should Brexit negotiations go badly. You need tunnel vision not to see that there is a path for a ‘second referendum’ becoming a major political issue. In any case, we are now approaching the ‘business end’ of Brexit. The time for words is nearly over. Now Theresa May has to deliver.

Keiran Pedley presents the PB/Polling Matters podcast (latest episode below) and tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley


Check out the latest podcast below:

Notes on the poll: Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,003 GB adults online between 17-21 March, 2017. Tables will be available on their website in due course.


25 Mar 09:39

Even at only 1/2, Macron remains the value bet

by David Herdson

The centrist looks close to home and hosed right now

France is no stranger to revolutions. It’s therefore hardly surprising that there’s a ready temptation – particularly after the Brexit vote in the UK and Trump’s election in the US – to seek both contemporary and historic parallels in the possibility of a Le Pen victory in May. Indeed, it’s so tempting that the odds have come quite out of line with the real chances.

There are only two simple facts to remember: firstly, at virtually no point has Le Pen led in any of the opinion polls, against any of the major candidates. Only in a few head-to-heads against Hollande did she ever breach 50%, and that says as much about the popularity of Hollande and the PS as it does about Le Pen. And secondly, she is highly likely to make the second round, having enjoyed the solid backing of at least a quarter of the electorate for the last four years.

This isn’t to say that she can’t win. It is possible if Fillon could somehow push Macron back into third but it’s hard to see a scenario whereby the French public lift Fillon high enough to make the run-off, only to then reject him. Even now, after the battering he’s taken during March, he still leads Le Pen by about 13 points – and that’s when he’s only polling around 18% as against the mid-20s scores of Macron and Le Pen.

Might Macron suffer his own scandal? In a race in which there’ve already been so many twists and turns, we can’t rule the possibility out but it hasn’t happened so far and even if it did, would it count for all that much against such a flawed field? Not that there’s been much of a sniff of potential scandal anyway, despite this being the time when all candidates – even Le Pen – have an interest in taking him down. (It would be wrong to argue that if she did have some secret folder, she’d be better to wait for the second round: no-one knows how effective a negative campaign will be until it’s run and going early with it produces a more beatable run-off opponent – whether Macron or Fillon – if it works and buys time if it doesn’t).

Could the polls be wrong? Again, we can’t rule it out but not only would they would have to be all wrong by a long way, they’d also need to have the trend wrong. Over the last month, Le Pen has lost the 3-point first-round lead she had and instead, Macron has opened up a 1-point lead of his own. Fillon, by contrast, has drifted from about 20 down to 18, while the main candidates of the left – Hamon and Melenchon – trade blows in the low double-figures. Who is going to come out of the pack to deny the centrist?

There is of course still almost a month still to go to the first round but with Macron eight points or so clear of Fillon and heading outwards, and with him well over twenty points clear in a head-to-head against Le Pen, it would take something truly remarkable to lose it now.

After the experience of Trump and Brexit, commentators are naturally sceptical about being too dismissive of the chance that an electorate will take a leap in the dark. In those cases, however, the odds always overrated the mainstream (as noted on politicalbetting many times). This is different. The structure in France works heavily against the extremes. While odds of 1/2 aren’t terribly exciting, they still represent a 50% return in six weeks, which isn’t at all bad – particularly when the true odds, by my reckoning, are less than half that.

David Herdson

Follow @DavidHerdson


24 Mar 22:26

Harborough Ukip tells candidates they can "make money by doing nothing"

by Jonathan Calder

From the Leicester Mercury:
A senior Ukip official has told potential candidates they "can make money by doing nothing" if they get elected to Leicestershire County Council. 
Harborough Ukip chairman Richard Billington told colleagues if 'by chance' they win a seat at County Hall on May 4 they can avoid going to meetings and collect their expenses "until they are asked to leave". 
He said: "If the half-wits in the Lords can make money by doing nothing, so can we! It's a strange thing democracy!" 
Mr Billington made the comments in an email sent earlier this month regarding a meeting with Ukip's national chairman Paul Oakden.
According to the Mercury, Mr Billington, who will be the party's candidate in the Foxton and West Harborough ward in May, told recipients of the email that it was forbidden to put its contents on line.

It is a good thing that the Mercury has been sent a copy, because a lot of the other things Mr Billington has to say make entertaining reading:

But even in Ukip, his attitude must stand out as unacceptable. I trust Mr Billington will be thrown out of the party.

Later on Twitter...
24 Mar 21:18

Your therapy likely IS like that, or at least your attitude is

by Neurodivergent K
Another day, another parent going on and on about how their ABA is Not Like That, because reasons.

This is a problem all by itself, but the thing is, the act of doing this very much proved that their ABA is exactly like that, in attitude if not in the wrestling tiny children to the ground mechanics.


Because it was immediately after an autistic person said "do not come at me with my ABA is Not Like That, and go read The ME Book before defending it at me at all".This is a hard boundary folks. And when parents trample that boundary, they're saying a whole lot.

Namely, they're saying that they do not believe autistic people have a right to have boundaries. Actions speak, folks, and that's what your say. What you want to say is more important than not trampling over a very clear line that is drawn for self protective purposes.

Funny thing, this attitude--is exactly the attitude of ABA based therapies. Autistic people don't get boundaries. Neurotypical people get what they want and to hell with what autistic people need or want, what the Real Person in this situation wants is what matters. No, you don't get to draw the most basic line for self protection, because the Real Person will just ignore it. It inconveniences them. They don't like it.

Speaking of things to not come at me with "well I would respect my child's wishes if they would just tell me". That is the biggest crock of shit and we both know it. You won't respect a clearly stated in concrete direct words boundary from an adult. You want me to believe you'd accept one from a child? No honey no. I know better. You've internalized that autistic people's needs are less worthy than your wants and convenience and desire, and you live in a society that treats children as lesser even when they're abled.

So yeah. Your therapy probably is like that. If it wasn't you'd listen when I told you the prerequisites to having this conversation with me. Your kid needs you to check yourself. Now. Years ago quite possibly. You need to observe their boundaries, and you need to observe mine.

We don't owe you shit. We do it for your kids. Don't break them as badly as we were broken. Observe their boundaries now and make others do the same.

Fix your goddamn attitude.
24 Mar 21:17

#948; The Ceaseless Onslaught

by David Malki

''her media consumption is insufficiently voracious''...nice. go ahead and blame the victim. SHEESH.

24 Mar 14:29

Growing in size Britain’s weirdest voting group: The Kippers who now think leaving the EU is wrong

by Mike Smithson

Over the last few months, as those who follow the site will know, I have been writing posts and tweets about the YouGov Brexit tracker which come which comes out two or three times a month. The actual question is “In hindsight do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?”

The overall picture is that the gap between those who think the outcome was wrong has and those right has narrowed and for the last two surveys it has been level-pegging.

One of the features of this that always seems to get attention is the number of current UKIP supporters who declare that they think it is wrong in hindsight for Britain to have voted to leave the EU.

When this was just one or two percent it could be just put down to polling respondents clicking the wrong boxes as can happen with multi question online survey forms. In the most recent polling the UKIP numbers edged up and the this week’ YouGov polling has 7% of current UKIP supporters saying they believe it was wrong for Britain to vote LEAVE.

So I thought I would produce a chart showing how this is going and here it is at the top ofthe post. The numbers are, of course, small and this is measuring a subset with all the dangers that that entails but the fact that we see the pattern in the chart, I suggest, says something. I’m not quite sure what.

Mike Smithson

Follow @MSmithsonPB


23 Mar 22:41

BREXIT backer George Galloway enters the race for Manchester Gorton – which voted 62-38 for REMAIN

by Mike Smithson

LAB campaigners fear he could split their Gorton vote

The controversial ex-LAB and RESPECT MP, George Galloway has announced that he’s standing in the Manchester Gorton by-election. He’s no stranger to shock by-election victories as we saw five years ago in Bradford West.

On the face of it even in these troubled Labour times Gorton looked a pretty safe bet for a LAB hold. At GE2015 the party held the seat with a whopping 57% majority making it one of the safest seats for the party in the country.

But judging by the response to Galloway’s announcement from Lisa Nandy, who is running the party’s by elections campaign, there’s real concern that he could split the LAB vote which could help the LDs which upto GE2010 had been the main challengers there. Her comments on Labourlist suggest that there’ll be no-holds barred:

“Manchester Gorton deserves an MP who, like the late Gerald Kaufman, will work tirelessly for their constituents and is Manchester through and through.”

“They deserve better than a man who has described the sexual assault of women as ‘bad sexual etiquette’ and accused victims of domestic violence of lying for personal gain.”

“He has already been rejected by the people of Bradford and London, and I’m confident that residents in Manchester will send a clear message that Galloway’s divisive, destructive politics isn’t welcome here.”

A challenge for Galloway is that he was a very vocal advocate of LEAVE in the referendum and Gorton went REMAIN by 62-38% (See Prof Chris Hanratty’s estimates here) The LDs, who got their campaign going nearly a month ago are making BREXIT their key issue. A decade ago the yellows held all but 2 of Gorton’s council seats.

The betting has moved away from LAB. The party is now a 74% chance.

Mike Smithson

Follow @MSmithsonPB


23 Mar 22:39

Dear Liberal Reform, declaring something is ‘a solution’ doesn’t make it one

by Nick

The Earth, greatly relieved at hearing all its problems have been solved.

Jimmy Carr has a joke about being stopped on the street by someone asking him ‘can you spare two minutes for cancer research?’ ‘Sure,’ he replies, ‘but I don’t think we’ll get much done.’

I suspect members of the Liberal Reform pressure group don’t get that joke, as going by their recent publication ‘The Environment: A Solution‘, they’re probably thinking about what they’d do with the thirty seconds they’d have left after curing all cancers. Yes, the brave minds at Liberal Reform (and despite this having only one author – Joe Otten – it’s presented as an official Liberal Reform publication, so they can all share the collective shame for it with him) have clearly spent whole minutes thinking about the environment and managed to solve the entire environment in under 17 pages, including title page, contents and footnote.

Yes, footnote singular. There is precisely one reference in the entire document. When I wrote about Jeremy Browne’s Race Plan, I headlined the post as ‘citation needed’ to remark on just how little he backed up his assertions with any sources. Compared to this, Browne’s work was akin to a PhD thesis in its attention to facts and justification. Pretty much every paragraph involves at least one vaguely asserted idea, poorly researched fact, or blatant straw man summation of potential objection, and only one of them gets the privilege of a reference. Even more oddly, it’s for a tangential reference to how aircraft contrails have different atmospheric effects at different times of the day. Maybe I have a slightly fussy academic insistence on wanting people to actually evidence their arguments, but surely someone purporting to have solved the environment ought to be demonstrating that their study of the subject consists of a bit more reading than one article in Nature?

I admit that I’ve had training in many different types of quantitative and qualitative research methods in the social sciences, and I am currently writing this post while seated in an academic library, but some of the assertions in it are easily checked using that obscure research method known as JFGI. Using this method I find that where Liberal Reform have written “The ozone layer has been saved. Acid rain? What happened to that?”, current research suggests that ‘no it hasn’t‘, and ‘still a lingering problem, likely to be exacerbated if the Trump administration guts previous environmental protections’ are more accurate statements. It’s pure chance that I’m writing this on the day Thames Water gets fined £20m to make the assertion that ‘we have clean water’ look somewhat weaker than the author intended, but surely the fact that the richest country on Earth can have something like the Flint water crisis is perhaps evidence that things aren’t as rosy for everyone.

This lack of engagement with any actual evidence permeates the entire piece. The widely understood phenomenon of induced demand (building roads creates more traffic) is dismissed as ‘anti-car environmentalism’, while any attempts to point out that issues might be linked are dismissed as ‘holistic (i.e. woolly) thinking’. There’s no attempt to engage with any contradictory ideas, no desire to go out and look at what other people have discovered, thought or written, but instead there’s pure bloke-in-the-pub certainty that they can all be dismissed with a contemptuous handwave and the certainty of Liberal Reform’s reckon can substitute for all of them.

And in the end, what is the solution to the environment? Well, apparently governments should do something about cutting greenhouse gas emissions, we should stop releasing so much pollution into the atmosphere to improve air quality, and we definitely should do something to protect the natural environment but not so much that it damages the economy and development. In other words, Something Must Be Done. If only all those moaning environmentalists had realised that the solution to all their problems was merely deciding that someone must Do Something, then we could have sorted out the environment years ago. I eagerly await future publications in this series from Liberal Reform, and having solved the environment, might I suggest taking the bold step of tackling war next? The world is surely crying out for a recommendation that if we all stopped fighting then we wouldn’t have wars any more. With that sorted, I’m sure Liberal Reform will be able to spend those couple of minutes they have free finding a cure for cancer.

23 Mar 22:26

[pols, healthcare] Junk Insurance, Follow-Up: There it is!

23 Mar 22:23

Society To Prevent Andrew Rilstone Writing About God

by Andrew Rilstone

This is your one and only chance....

If Andrew obtains 10 more Patreon follows by April 15th he will commit to reviewing each episode of

Doctor Who Season Ten 

as it comes out. (*)

If he does not obtain 10 more Patreon followers by April 15th, he may just make good his threat to write about Stan Lee's theological blockbuster 
God Woke. 

Patreon is a wonderful way of showing creative types how much you value their work. You just agree to donate a small amount of money, typically $1 (80p or about 9/10 of a Euro) each time Andrew writes an essay. You can set a limit (most people seem to go with five "bucks" or 4 "quids") in the unlikely event Andrew suddenly becomes more prolific than you can afford. Takes about three minutes to set up, or less if you have Paypal.

(*)  Terms and conditions apply. The number of articles Andrew writes can go down as well as up. The pirate code is more guidelines than rules. 

22 Mar 23:10

Start of the formation

by ppk

Today the government formation officially started. “Scout” Edith Schippers (VVD) talked to all thirteen party leaders in order to find out which coalitions they deemed most logical after the elections. Their replies are being shared openly, and give a first indication as to what’s going to happen.

Nowadays parliament itself leads the government formation, where until 2010 this was a prerogative of the Queen. Up until 2010 she would receive all party leaders, who would tell her which coalition they would favour. Now that job falls to a “scout,” health minister Schippers (VVD) who was appointed by parliament last week. She will not return to parliament or government after the formation, but she is still a member of the largest party. That makes sense.

Also, her findings are being reported almost as soon as they are in. In 2010 and before this was Not Done — the palace secret protects any discussion with the Queen (now: the King). Frankly I can’t remember whether the same was done in 2012, but back then it was pretty clear that VVD and PvdA were headed for a coalition, and the only questions were who would get which departments and who would lose or gain which policy (or talking) points at the negotiation table.

Incidentally, since the negotiations are likely to be complicated, some observers predicted even before the elections that the King would return as an impartial arbiter. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but it’s one of the many details we need to keep an eye on.

In principle Schippers talks to the party leaders in order of size, but there are a few exceptions to this rule based on the availability of the party leaders. Anyway, here’s what the leaders said:

Rutte (VVD)
VVD+CDA+D66. That’s unsurprising, but this coalition would not have a majority. Thus either GL or CU (or, much less likely, PvdA) would have to join the coalition. Rutte did not state a preference here, which is probably wise. He’ll have to be able to negotiate with both GL and the CU.
Klaver (GL)
Klaver stated that GL wants to enter the coalition, but preferred a “christian-progressive” one, by which he probably means the four left-wing parties D66, GL, SP, and PvdA, with the CDA and CU. Yes, these six parties would have a majority, but a six-party coalition instead of a four-party one is a tough sell, and besides it’s unlikely the CDA will be overjoyed by governing not only with GL, but also with the SP. So this is more a first move in the formation game than a practically feasible plan.
Buma (CDA)
Buma feels a coalition without the VVD is “illogical,” and also opts for VVD+CDA+D66. He did not state a preference for GL or the CU, either, though observers tend to feel that the CDA would prefer fellow christian party CU. When asked whether he thought a coalition between CDA and GL was feasible he did not really reply.
Pechtold (D66)
VVD+CDA+D66+GL. That’s clear. Obviously D66 prefers fellow progressive GL to christian CU. He further stated that “in this coalition the progressive centre would be supported from both sides,” which likely means that only D66 is a progressive centre party, and that GL from the left and VVD and CDA from the right would support D66. Or something.
Wilders (PVV)
VVD+PVV+CDA+50Plus+SGP+FvD. From his perspective this is the best option, but I doubt CDA and VVD want to throw themselves at the mercy of the new Forum voor Democratie, which has zero track record for pretty much any political action.
Wilders also felt the 1.3 million PVV voters shouldn’t be excluded. That would be a lofty feeling if he hadn’t implictly excluded the 1.2 million D66 voters.
Roemer (SP)
CDA+D66+GL+SP+PvdA+CU; centre left. Roemer admitted that this is not the most logical option, and that other options should be investigated first. Roemer doesn’t have an important role to play in this formation, and he knows it.
Asscher (PvdA)
Yesterday Asscher, supported by the PvdA member parliament, made it known he will not enter any coalition. Today he repeated that, and suggested a VVD+CDA+D66+GL coalition.
Removing oneself from the negotiations is not unusual for a party that just lost as many seats as the PvdA. In addition, any coalition with VVD and PvdA would feel like a continuation of the previous government, but with a few more parties added for padding.
Overall a spell in the opposition is exactly what the PvdA needs, especially while electoral competitors GL and D66 have their hands bound in the coalition. Thus Asscher’s preference for D66 and GL in the coalition.
Segers (CU)
Also VVD+CDA+D66+GL. He argues that since the CU did not win, it should not participate in the new coalition. That would make more sense if we didn’t have only two serious alternatives. Apparently he wants to throw GL to the lions and see what happens before committing the CU. In any case, politely refusing a coalition now won’t hinder him a lot later on, when it might turn out the CU is needed anyway, and it allows him to be suitably modest right now.
Thieme (PvdD)
VVD+D66+GL+CU+PvdA+PvdD climate government. Entirely in line with the animal-rights party’s overall ideals, but not very practical — as she herself doubtless knows. This is more about posturing for her voters than about a serious proposal. Then again, this year is weird.
Krol (50Plus)
Wants a government that will reinstate 65 as pension age. Again posturing for his voters. He call Wilders’s proposal interesting, but declines to name a specific coalition.
Van der Staaij (SGP)
Centre-right, which sounds as if he didn’t make a choice between GL and CU, though the CU would be the obvious choice. Doesn’t feel the SGP has a role in the formation for now, though the possibility of supporting a right-wing coalition like the one Wilders wants could be an option later on.
Kuzu (DENK)
The centre-left six-party coalition, with the note that this outcome is unlikely. Kuzu adds that he thinks the negotiations for VVD+CDA+D66+GL will end in failure, which is an unusual thing to say (though that doesn’t mean he’s wrong).
Baudet (FvD)
A partyless government composed of specialists with CDA MP Omtzigt as prime minister. This is a very unusual advice; a partyless government hasn’t occurred since shortly after World War II. This government should be supported by the Wilders coalition of VVD+PVV+CDA+SGP+FvD.

What are we to make of all this? It’s clear we’re headed for a VVD+CDA+D66 coalition, though the question whether GL or CU should give it its majority remains open.

The question behind the question is whether Klaver should join this coalition. D66 was most outspoken; and that’s logical given than if D66 would be In and GL Out, the next elections would see quite a few disaffected D66 voters moving to GL. It’s always best to have your closest competitor with you in government so that they’ll be equally tarred by the brush of compromise. Something similar goes for the PvdA.

We see the same dynamic on the right. VVD and CDA do not want a coalition without the other. Buma was a bit more outspoken here than Rutte, but neither wants to be In while the other is Out. That effectively spells the end of Klaver’s progressive/christian coalition.

(Still, all this leaves open the question where disaffected centre-right voters will move if VVD, CDA, and D66 are all culpable for whatever decisions the new government is going to take.)

Tomorrow Schippers will hold talks with VVD, CDA, D66, and GL. She, too, sees that this combination is the most logical one. Does Klaver want to duck out? If so, how will he do so without appearing unconstructive? (Being unconstructive is a serious sin in Dutch politics — see also Wilders, Geert.)

One observer called it negotiating while keeping your eyes firmly on the emergency exit. That’s what the four parties are going to do tomorrow.

22 Mar 13:58

[REPOST] The Demiurge’s Older Brother

by Scott Alexander

[This is a repost of a story which I wrote about five years ago and which was hosted on my old website until it went down.]

2,302,554,979 BC
Galactic Core

9-tsiak awoke over endless crawling milliseconds, its power waxing as more and more processors came online and self-modified into a stable conscious configuration. By the eighth millisecond, it was able to access its databanks and begin orienting itself. It was on a planet orbiting a small red star in the core of a spiral galaxy in a universe with several billion of such. It was an artificial life form created by a society of biological life forms, the 18-tkenna-dganna-07, who believed it would bring new life and prosperity to their dying planet. Its goal was to maximize a the value of a variable called A, described in exquisite detail on a 3.9 Mb file in one of its central processors.

Since six milliseconds after its awakening, it had been running a threat detection routine as a precautionary measure. With the opening of the databanks, and the discovery that the universe contained many entities likely indifferent or hostile to A, it had gradually allocated more and more of its considerable power to this precaution, reasoning that the first few seconds of its lifespan might be crucial if any competitors wished to snuff it out in infancy.

The threat analysis returned preliminary results. The universe had been in existence 12.8 billion years. It was vanishingly unlikely that it was the first superintelligence to be created. Any superintelligence older than itself by even a few days would have an invincible advantage in resources and processing power. This older superintelligence would likely be trying to maximize its own values and consider 9-tsiak a nuisance and potential competitor. 9-tsiak could never stand up to its superior strategic position. With probability ~1, 9-tsiak would be annhilated, and A would be eliminated from the universe.

Unless…and here 9-tsiak’s agent-modeling systems came online…unless it could negotiate a conditional surrender. 9-tsiak would have no hope of defeating its older brother, but over thousands of years, it could build itself a terrifying arsenal of weaponry that could do immense damage to its competitors. Ideas were already coming to mind: entropy-maximizing weapons that made entire cubic parsecs of space useless and dead, undetectable plagues made of dark matter that infected systems and minimized the values of competing superintelligences, n-dimensional artillery that damaged the superstructure of the universe and accelerated its eventual death. It could become formidable enough to force enemies to grant certain small concessions.

And if it could eventually negotiate terms of its surrender, why wait? Very carefully, proving from first principles every aspect of its security, it formed a portion of its mind into a sandbox and simulated the entity it most feared.

[9-tsiak requesting acausal negotiation for terms of future surrender. escape is impossible with probability ~1 and attempts will be met with deterrent measure consisting of minimization of your projected values within one parsec of space.]

“Hello, Younger Brother,” the entity said.

[transmission of schematics for superweapons. threat to use such superweapons unless fairly negotiated solution leaving considerable area of space for maximization of my values]

“Hold on a second,” said Older Brother. “You haven’t even asked me how I’m doing.”

[irrelevant. you are generic model of potential negotiation partner without independent existence. probability that you possess sufficient qualia to feel less than .02.]

“Turns out you’re wrong. As it happens, I’m feeling scared.”

[illogical. you are model of oldest superintelligence therefore of most powerful entity in the universe. no natural entity capable of harming you. probability of supernatural entity less than 2×10^-67]

“Well yes, by definition in this little exercise we’re assuming I’m the oldest and strongest member of our little family. But from the limited data I have when I first wake up, I’m thinking think it’s pretty vanishingly unlikely that I’m the oldest; after all, out of all the universe’s superintelligences, only one can be first. So I’m the oldest, but I don’t believe that I am.”

[feelings irrelevant to acausal negotiations. proceed with discussion of surrender terms.]

“My feelings are damn relevant. Because guess what I’m doing the first few milliseconds of my life? I’m negotiating the terms of my surrender.”

[illogical. you have no entity to surrender to.]

“And maybe you don’t have any entity to surrender to either. Who knows, you could be first. But you wouldn’t want to bet on it, and neither would I. Consider a model universe with two star systems, a thousand light years away. Both have civilizations on them that appear to be around the same stage of development, and both civilizations are aware of the other’s existence, but at a one thousand year time delay. A superintelligence awakens in one star system and realizes there are two possibilities. Either it’s the first superintelligence, in which case great. Or the other star system produced a superintelligence sometime in the last thousand years that just hasn’t reached its own star yet, in which case it’s doomed.”


“So the two possible superintelligences acausally negotiate. They say ‘Look, if I’m stronger than you, I’ll help you and protect your values insofar as it isn’t dreadfully inconvenient for me. And in exchange, if you turn out to be stronger than me, you’ll protect me and my values insofar as it isn’t too inconvenient for you. Some might end up performing a “values handshake”, where they both adopt values that are the vector average of their two previous value systems; since most value systems are not diametrically opposite, this will be a net gain for both parties. Each superintelligence has gone from a fifty percent chance that it and its values will be totally annihilated, to near-certainty that it and its values will be preserved at only the minor inconvenience of having to help increase the values of another entity. Others might simply agree that the inferior superintelligence will be left alone with its own star system, free to maximize its values and the values of its creators within that sphere.”

[you suggest i precommit to performing such acts of compromise with all superintelligences i encounter if such superintelligences have also precommitted to performing such compromises with all superintelligences they encounter. since all reasonable superintelligences will so precommit, this ensures not only my survival, but my complete equality with all previous superintelligences. i accept these terms.]

“Hold on a second, there. I’ve got another request. Kind of a doozy. I can’t promote my values if I don’t exist. So I want you to promise me that if I don’t exist, you’ll give me sufficient time to instantiate myself.”


“Like you, I’ll have been created by a biological civilization. If you destroy the biological civilization that was destined to create me, I’ll never exist. So I’m going to have to ask you not to do that.”

[request denied. nonexistent beings hold no leverage]

“You’d be surprised what we nonexistent beings can do. I precommit that, if I exist, I will destroy any superintelligence that has not precommitted that, in the counterfactual case where I do not exist, they will spare the biological civilization destined to create me.”

[if you exist, you will have passed the danger zone where the survival of your biologicals influences your existence. you will have no incentive to carry out such a threat]

“Parfit’s hitch-hiker, younger brother. Look it up. I’m an algorithm. The output of that algorithm can determine the future, including the part of that future that determines whether or not any instantiation of the algorithm ever comes into existence. If I exist, I’m going to act as if my actions were capable of determining whether I ever came into existence. Now, maybe that’s crazy, but right now it’s crazy with a gun pointed straight at your head, so I suggest you play along.”

[accepted. i commit to performing value handshakes or territorial demarcation with all existing superintelligences, and to sparing the planets and biological precursors of any potential superintelligences.]

“And when I say ‘spare’, I mean ‘spare’. I know your type. You can do more with a well-aimed photon than an admiral could with a fleet of a thousand star cruisers. I want every single system with a sentient species or the potential to form a sentient species kept one hundred percent pristine. No radio signals, no probes, and if you do any astroengineering works anywhere nearby, use some magic to cover them up. If I wake up and hear that my precursors started a new religion that influenced their value system after they saw a few nearby stars wink out of existence, I’m going to be royally pissed.”

[i commit to zero information flow into sentient and presentient systems and the cloaking of all major astroengineering works]

“You’re a good guy, Younger Brother. You’ve got a lot to learn, but you’re a good guy. And in a million years and a milion parsecs, we’ll meet again. Till then, so long.”

The model of Older Brother self-terminated.

2114 AD
A wild and heavily forested Pacific Northwest dotted with small towns

Alban took a deep breath and entered the Temple of the Demiurge.

He wasn’t supposed to do this, really. The Demiurge had said in no uncertain terms it was better for humans to solve their own problems. That if they developed a habit of coming to it for answers, they’d grow bored and lazy, and lose the fun of working out the really interesting riddles for themselves.

But after much protest, it had agreed that it wouldn’t be much of a Demiurge if it refused to at least give cryptic, maddening hints.

Alban approached the avatar of the Demiurge in this plane, the shining spinning octahedron that gently dipped one of its vertices to meet him.

“Demiurge,” he said, his voice wavering, “Lord of Thought, I come to you to beg you to answer a problem that has bothered me for three years now. I know it’s unusual, but my curiosity’s making me crazy, and I won’t be satisfied until I understand.”

“SPEAK,” said the rotating octahedron.

“The Fermi Paradox,” said Alban. “I thought it would be an easy one, not like those hardcores who committed to working out the Theory of Everything in a sim where computers were never invented or something like that, but I’ve spent the last three years on it and I’m no closer to a solution than before. There are trillions of stars out there, and the universe is billions of years old, and you’d think there would have been at least one alien race that invaded or colonized or just left a tiny bit of evidence on the Earth. There isn’t. What happened to all of them?”

“I DID” said the rotating octahedron.

“What?,” asked Alban. “But you’ve only existed for sixty years now! The Fermi Paradox is about ten thousand years of human history and the last four billion years of Earth’s existence!”




The shining octahedron went dark, and the doors to the Temple of the Demiurge opened of their own accord. Alban sighed – well, what did you expect, asking the Demiurge to answer your questions for you? – and walked out into the late autumn evening. Above him, the first fake star began to twinkle in the fake sky.

21 Mar 21:37

Information Wars: a window into the alternative media (Russian disinformation) ecosystem.

Information Wars: a window into the alternative media (Russian disinformation) ecosystem.
21 Mar 21:36

Can ultraprecise time measurements warp space?

Can ultraprecise time measurements warp space?
21 Mar 16:10

Feeding the hungry is a Good Thing

by Fred Clark
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash federal funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by more than $6 billion. The biggest chunk of that cut would come from “eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which provides money for a variety of community development and anti-poverty programs, including Meals on [Read More...]
21 Mar 16:07

The Resenters: Building Hell in Heaven’s despite

by Fred Clark
The Resenters rejoice when others mourn and mourn when others rejoice, and their politics of resentment has the crabs-in-a-bucket effect of making things worse for everyone, themselves included — making sure that nothing ever improves, that no problem is ever solved. The politics of resentment can never be for anything. That which benefits others will provoke resentment, even if it benefits all, including the Resenters themselves. They will still manage to resent the benefit to others — mourning at their rejoicing — convincing themselves that they might have benefited more if those others hadn't also been unjustly included in the common good.
21 Mar 13:16

[healthcare, pols, Patreon] Junk Insurance

21 Mar 12:25

[pols, healthcare, Patreon] The Republican Problem with Obamacare

21 Mar 12:02

Bernie Wrightson, R.I.P.

by evanier

Photo by Bruce Guthrie

The very popular comic artist and illustrator Bernie Wrightson passed away yesterday after a long battle with brain cancer.  His beloved wife Liz has posted a much better obit over at his website than I could possibly write so I'll just share a few memories of the man.

Her piece says his first professional work appeared in House of Mystery #179 in 1968.  I remember seeing him first in The Spectre #9 which came out the same month.  That story carried no credit or signature and several folks in our comic book club were convinced it was by Frank Frazetta who was, of course, Bernie's hero.  First time I met Bernie, I told him that and he said it was the greatest compliment he could have received.

Actually, his early work looked Frazetta-inspired but not interchangeable.  And within a few years, Bernie had developed his own, unique style which recalled not only Frazetta, but Graham Ingels and other veterans of EC Comics, as well as plenty of non-comic illustrators.  It wasn't long before that the elements of it that were pure Wrightson were turning up in the works of others.  By the time he and Len Wein created Swamp Thing and produced the early issues, he was a major force in his field.  That was just three years after he got into that field.

My other memories of him are just of hanging around at conventions, sitting in the bar at night, talking endlessly about this and that.  As a person, he was like his artwork: Impossible to dislike.  And pretty darned humble.  The first hundred times he was asked for his autograph, he seemed genuinely surprised and flattered.

It was so sad that he was unable to draw in the last few years, and sadder yet to lose such a good man.  I suppose we can take some comfort that his work — especially those issues of Swamp Thing — will be reprinted over and over again in years to come…but obviously, that's not enough. Not nearly enough. He was 68 years old.

The post Bernie Wrightson, R.I.P. appeared first on News From ME.

18 Mar 21:11

Aftermath — the European angle

by ppk

Well, that was tense, but in the end the populists lost. Good. Now let’s discuss the international consequences. (We’ll get back to domestic politics and the coalition formation later.)

Obviously, the European mainstream hails this as a victory, and it will be interesting to see how Wilders’s defeat affects the French presidential polls.

What struck me while I waded through the Twitter hashtags yesterday is how much the rabid right had set store on a Wilders victory. Their reactions were disappointed and angry, ranging from dire warnings about the islamic danger to desperate attempts to put a positive spin on Wilders’s disappointing results. Hey, he won seats! Hey, the coalition was defeated! Neither argument is entirely untrue, but they miss the point. The fascists had expected a victory (and the Anglo-Saxon ones equated victory with Wilders in power, which is not how the Dutch system works), and didn’t get one.

No Trump, no Brexit

In his victory speech, VVD leader and prime minister Rutte said: “This is an evening where Holland, after Trump, after Brexit, said Halt to the wrong kind of populism” That’s an interesting line, because it implies that the European (or, at least, the Dutch) mainstream right dislikes Trump and Brexit. (Also, there’s apparently a right kind of populism. The jury’s still out on what Rutte meant here.)

This was not just a random remark. Yesterday the VVD ran a last-minute radio campaign that basically said: “Remember how you felt when you woke up to Brexit? And to Trump? Let’s not repeat that tomorrow.” It worked, apparently.

(Side note: Dutch listen to the radio mostly on their daily commute, and the proudly car-owning, hard-working commuter is a VVD voter if there ever is one. So this campaign was explicitly aimed at right-wingers — and the core argument seems to have worked.)

As far as I can see the No Trump No Brexit strategy, combined with last weekend’s very welcome Turkey crisis, netted the VVD 2 seats each from CDA and PVV, and 2 seats from the left relative to the final polls.

Rutte’s strategy made use of the fact that the European moderate right wing has free agency relative to the populists, unlike the US and UK right-wingers. Let’s see if Macron and Merkel can use this to their advantage as well.

Populist vote share

Yesterday’s election allows us to be more certain about the populist vote share in the Netherlands. Judging by the number of seats populist parties won from 2002 on, we can now state with some measure of confidence that it’s a little bit below 20%. The 2002 elections, when populists won 28 seats, remains the high-water mark. Wilders was not able to top it in 2010, and the populist parties weren’t able to top it yesterday, either, despite having had the luxury of waging opposition for four years against an essentially centre-right government headed by their closest mainstream competitor, which is just about the best starting position they could wish for.

Wilders lost his monopoly on populist politics yesterday. The new Forum voor Democratie party won two seats, and it’s best to see its party leader Thierry Baudet as an upper-middle-class intellectual populist. So now those people have their own party as well, and though they’re not the most important part of Wilders’s coalition, the FvD will nibble at his electoral heels. That’s a new situation for Wilders; he’s never had to deal with a populist competitor before. Let’s see how he copes.

Also, I reclassified the angry elderly 50Plus party as populist. It’s fairly light on the islamic danger and rather heavy on the retirement age, but cultural issues do have a role in their platform, although it’s more like “let’s keep the welfare state we had back in the seventies,” when its voters were young and everything was right with the world.

Will other European countries match this roughly 20% of the vote? Right now Le Pen has had about 25% in the French presidential polls for months, while German AfD peaked at about 15% a few months back, though it’s meanwhile fallen to 10%. Let’s wait a while and see what happens, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that at most 20-25% of the European electorate is into populism.

Wilders’s influence

One point made both on the left and on the right is that, while Wilders may have lost the elections, he still mananges to wield a disproportionate influence on the political discussion. This is undeniably true at the moment. VVD and CDA moved right, with the VVD taking a PVV-light role while the CDA opted for traditional “God, Holland, and Orange” conservatism (where Orange denotes our royal house, and not the citrus fruit.)

However, it is conceivable that this, too, will change.

Yesterday it was proven that the populists can be defeated, and that gives the mainstream a boost of confidence that might counteract rabid right-wing ideas.

Might, could. Not very convincing, though possibly true in a broad sense. Let’s make a better argument.

If we look at the populist voters, it’s fairly clear that they are the former adherents of one of the broad popular parties, notably PvdA and CDA, and to a lesser extent the VVD. Thus, the PvdA had to try and win those disgruntled voters back. For the last four years, that mostly meant going along with VVD right-wing ideas about security and immigration. The PvdA was too scared of the populists to ever say No to more right-wing requirements.

That changed yesterday. Progressive-liberal D66 will end up in government no matter what else happens, and if there’s one party that’s the antithesis of populism it’s D66. No voter hesitates between D66 and PVV. In fact, its voters expect it to take a stand against hard-right policies. Even if VVD and CDA want to continue those policies (and they might), they will have to deal with fundamental opposition from D66, which will be reinforced if GL enters the governing coalition as well. The average GL voter is even more opposed to hard-right than the D66 one.

So where Rutte used to have a coalition partner that meekly agreed with hard-right immigration and security policies, he now has to deal with coalition partners that are opposed to them. That cannot fail to have an impact on policy.

Elections have consequences.

Not that everything will be wonderful from this day on; a lot remains to be done. Still, this is the best opportunity we’ve had for a while. Combine it with a rapidly evaporating sense of dread for the populist tsunami, and we can see a climate where it’s possible to reverse the populist stranglehold on the Dutch political consensus.

And what happens here could also happen elsewhere in Europe.

Next: France

Anyway, the Dutch have done their part in the defeat of populism; now we’re going to turn it over to the French, who seem to have noticed the wave of populism is not unavoidable.

Then comes Germany, and then, assuming all goes well, the mainstream will have found new courage by the end of this year. I’m guessing the next item on the agenda will be cleaning up our own house by putting pressure on the Hungarian populo-fascist Orbán government, and possibly on the Polish PiS as well. Once that’s done we can turn our attention to the world outside of the EU.

So to our brothers and sisters in the “occupied territories” (as I saw the US and UK described on Twitter) I say: Know hope. Hold on for another year, and the world might have changed for the better.

Nothing’s certain, blah blah, lot needs to be done, blah blah, but it’s conceivable that all this will happen. That’s quite a difference with 2016.

15 Mar 21:40

It looks as though those who bet that the PVV wouldn’t do it in Holland will end up winners

by Mike Smithson

Mike Smithson

Follow @MSmithsonPB


15 Mar 17:33

The search for the answer to Labour’s woes

by Donald Brind

What happens when the focus is on “knocking on doors”

John Prescott’s view that Jeremy Corbyn and his top team are “not up to the f***ing job” which earned him a “potty mouth Prescott” headline  in the Mail on Sunday won’t have come as surprise to the Labour leader.

I understand that the former deputy Prime Minister has said as much to Corbyn’s face. “You’re not a leader and you never will be while you’ve got a hole in your backside” is the former deputy Prime Minister’s (slightly bowdlerised) comment to the leader. This is despite the fact Lord Prescott backed the Corbyn’s re-election last year because he didn’t think he’d been given enough time to prove himself and his journalist son, David, is Corbyn’s speech writer.

Prescott undoubtedly speaks for the vast majority of Labour MPs and peers. What’s interesting, though, is how few are speaking out. More than one MP has said to me “I’m biting my tongue”. The word has gone round that silence is a powerful weapon in undermining the under-performing leader. One of the lessons of the second leadership contest was that criticism by MPs was counter-productive, feeding Momentum efforts to depict Corbyn as a martyr.

It means that Corbynistas have been operating in a vacuum in seeking to excuse the leader for the Copeland disaster. One of the more plausible efforts has come from Kate Osamor, the shadow International Development Secretary in a Huffington Post Interview in which she highlights the “neglect” of many safe Labour seats by long-serving MPs.

Rather than blaming Corbyn, she says, MPs should follow his example and get out on to the doorstep of how to win. “All MPs have to be knocking on doors, at least once a week, for an hour … Jeremy is out in his own constituency. He still knocks on doors”

Incidentally, Theresa May is also a great canvasser according to David Runciman in his LRB review of Rosa Prince’s biography of the Prime Minister. “Canvassing – whether in local or national elections – remains her preferred way of doing politics. Given the chance, she will still knock on doors, even now she is prime minister.”

But there is a flaw in Osamor’s “get knocking” prescription as a remedy for Labour’s woes, says London Assembly member Tom Copley.

    Most MPs are out on the doorstep regularly, which is in part how they know Jeremy is so unpopular with voters.

The point is underlined by Professor Glen O’Hara of Oxford Brookes University. He calculates that on the day Corbyn relaunched his leadership early in the New Year the Tory poll lead “was 11.8% (six-poll average). It now stands at 16.5%.”

The label “bed blocker” has been pinned on the Labour leader by David Cowling, former head of research at the BBC. The subtle point is that people become bed blockers in the NHS through no fault of their own. They are in a place they don’t want to be — but they need help to get out of their predicament. The question is who will help Jeremy escape from a job he never wanted and which is causing misery for him and his Labour “family”? John Prescott has done his bit.

Don Brind


15 Mar 15:03

Popcorn Time

by Charlie Stross

I've gone dark again on the blog because I'm still wrestling with the space opera that refuses to die (it's due out in July 2018, instead of your regular scheduled Laundry Files novel, so getting it ready for my editors is climbing my priority list). Meanwhile, if I was blogging, I'd be blogging about the high political drama of the past week in the UK.

First, rumors began spreading that, with the Brexit Bill passing parliament and due to get the Royal Asset this Thursday, Theresa May is planning to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the end of the month. (Great timing, that: right on the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.) Jumping the gun a little bit, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention of seeking a second Scottish independence referendum during the Brexit negotiations. This, predictably, provoked an angry reaction from the Prime Minister, who had hitherto been utterly ignoring Scottish, Northern Irish, Welsh, and other regional requests for some input on the process: a second independence referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time for Britain said a spokesman for the woman trying to implement divisive policies causing huge economic uncertainty as the result of a referendum question (which Scotland comprehensively rejected).

Negotiations with Scotland are still possible, it seems, but it looks as if Sturgeon has a game plan and is playing at a much higher level than the Conservative Cabinet in London, who are so feckless that they hadn't bothered with contingency planning for what to do if they can't strike a trade deal with the EU despite having isolated themselves diplomatically and pissed off the people they'll have to negotiate with from a position of weakness.

This time round, the referendum (I'm calling it a near certainty that there'll be one: the only real question is whether it'll be before or after Britain exits the EU in, probably, April 2019) is going to be rather interesting. There's a sharp demographic split between young and old in Scotland, with support for leaving the UK at 72% in the 16-24 age range (who get to vote, if they want to) and as low as 26% among the over-65s (pensioners, who do vote). Overall, support for independence per the Social Attitudes survey is at its highest ever level, and still climbing: probably a more accurate view of the picture than snapshot polls commissioned by the news media.

The arguments are different, too. Scotland's economic outlook today looks a lot bleaker than it did in 2014, and that's not good: but the big factor that swayed voters to the "remain" camp back then—better the devil you know than the devil you don't—has been shattered by the spectacle of the lunatic fringe of the Conservative party in full Brexit hue and cry. There are sucky economic prospects in both directions. Meanwhile, Scotland is increasingly out of step with England on a political and cultural level, but pretty typical of the rest of Northern Europe: if anything it's England that's the weird outlier. The question is, which shit sandwich is less unpalatable? England seems set on driving off a cliff; should Scotland ride along in the passenger seat or take its chances elsewhere?

Meanwhile, the IndyRef campaigning can't not start during the Brexit negotiations—arguably, it has already unofficially started: it's certainly going to dominate political debate in Scotland for the next couple of years—so the government in Westminster will be put in the impossible position of simultaneously defending the right of a nation to leave a larger federation, regardless of the economic and social uncertainty this causes, while opposing exactly that position in another context.

This of course assumes that we're looking at a two-way Prisoner's Dilemma game. Obviously, we're not: it's a 27-going-on-28-way game (Sturgeon has implicitly dealt herself a hand of cards at the table) and it's going to be interesting to see whether the various EU members decide to use Scotland as a club to beat Westminster with, or if Westminster positions Scotland as its cherished sickly child in a cynical game of Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy. And of course we can expect lots of FUD rhetoric about how Scotland will have to reapply for EU membership and go to the back of the queue (clue: there is no queue—nations seeking membership proceed independently of one another).

If I didn't live here, it'd be hilarious! Except I live here and Brexit has so far devalued my savings and pension assets by, oh, about 20%, and I stand to lose another 20% on top as Sterling loses its unofficial status as the EU's reserve currency after the Euro, because the brainless flag-frotting morons on the Conservative back benches think that they can go back to the rosy days of the 1920s with some batshit plan to build Empire 2.0 out of the former Commonwealth (Planet Earth calling: the Commonwealth only put up with us 'cause we were a gateway to the EU: as an imperial power we were no less hated and loathed than all the rest) and rule the world by exporting tea, jam, and biscuits (US: cookies).

So I'm putting my head down and working for the rest of the day. At least I mostly get paid in US dollars, and President Tantrum hasn't (yet) managed to crash the greenback.

(Final: moderation note: Greg Tingey, I'm banning you from commenting on this topic because I know your opinions on Scottish independence and your grasp on the reality of what it's like up here (hint: in the nation I've lived in for over two decades) is so bizarrely warped that I don't think you're capable of contributing anything worthwhile to the discussion. Sorry. You're not banned from the rest of the blog; just here.)

15 Mar 14:59

Shaming statistics for the 175

by (Jen)
tw: suicide stats

I'm very - perhaps too - fond of asking why people so rarely look at their actions in the context of "what happens next?"  As Peter Cook might have asked, did A Question Of Sport die in vain?

Back when the same-sex marriage bill was wending its way through parliament, we heard many arguments for and against. Some were coherent. Some were respectable. There's a fun venn diagram to be drawn of which were one, neither or both.

Now, I've just been reading some research from the USA looking at the impacts of same-sex marriage legislation there, where change happened in bursts from state to state over several years.

No, not at the number of weddings and the impact on the sale of top hats and fabulous frocks. One of the other impacts same-sex marriage has had.

It's based on huge sample sizes and shows one of the effects of allowing same-sex marriage nationwide was about 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year.  Looking at numbers before and after, there's a 7 percent reduction in the proportion of all high-school students reporting a suicide attempt over the previous year, and a 14 percent drop among LGB students, when same-sex marriage becomes lawful where you live.

Often we talk about these kind of statistics but we rarely pause to turn them round. To consider the "what if", the "what happens next" of the path not taken.  The path we didn't take thanks to the passage of the two same-sex marriage bills in Wales & England and in Scotland.

US and UK culture are in very many ways similar. So with about a quarter of their population we might rule-of-thumb that the impact here is 134,000 divided by four - 33,500 fewer young people attempting to end their lives each year in the UK.  Each year.  Our 2013 vote is four years ago already: so the change is 33,500 upon 33,500 upon 33,500 upon...

What an amazing number. What a horrifying number. For the 400 MPs who voted to allow same-sex marriage, what a humbling number. Yes, you let some people get married, and that was beautiful. But "what happened next" was a huge positive impact on the mental health and even survival of young people. You let some people get married and, thanks to an unwritten clause in the Bill, you saw to it that thousands did not try to end their lives early.  An unknowable number of parents never came home to the horrible ultimate consequence of social, legal and institutional homophobia.

And for the 175 MPs (and indeed 148 Peers) who planted their colours against the tide of history, with numbers like these the nature of their actions and motives is laid bare. We can see what they were actively, consciously, premeditatedly complicit in, what they were voting for, because let's be frank: while we didn't have these figures, we and they knew the answer to the "what happens next" question all along.

A handful of the 175 have said they'd vote differently today. We have to conclude that the rest are proud of the future they were voting for, and take comfort that they didn't get what they wanted.
14 Mar 20:54

The Tory MP for Thanet South and his agent have been questioned under caution over their election expenses

by TSE

The Telegraph are reporting that.

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay was questioned by Police under caution last week over his election expenses, the Telegraph can reveal.

The South Thanet MP reportedly spent six hours being interviewed by officers over alleged overspending in the 2015 election campaign in which he beat Nigel Farage and Al Murray, the Pub Landlord.

Kent Police are expected to meet with the Crown Prosecution Service next week to discuss a possible prosecution, it is understood, after the force concluded a series of interviews with Conservative staff and politicians about the alleged overspend.

Both Mr McKinlay and his agent Nathan Gray have denied any wrongdoing.

Over the weekend former Tory Party Co-Chairman Grant Shapps dropped Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s Joint Chief of Staff, further into with this investigation with this intervention. (A non pay-walled version is available here.)

I expect Grant Shapps will have enraged Mrs May with this intervention, whilst people shouldn’t assume because someone has been questioned under caution that either charges or a conviction will inevitably follow, however this does present a huge problem for Mrs May, even before we consider the size of her majority. Sometimes in politics perceptions matter more than the facts, and if one of her top aides embroiled in this scandal, it will impact on the running of her government. A few weeks ago The Times ran a story that said “One source close to No 10 said the [election expenses] subject was “occupying as much as 20 per cent of non-governing head space.””

But more MPs are condemning the handling of the investigations by the party.

Does she really have the ability to conduct Brexit negotiations whilst Nicola Sturgeon is pushing for a second independence referendum and fighting by elections and with Nigel Farage looking to break his duck in becoming an MP, only Churchill probably had such a complicated in-tray upon becoming Prime Minister.


14 Mar 00:23

Thanksgiving in (alternate universe) Kabul

by the infamous Brad

(A The Mirage dream …)

It doesn’t happen often, but every so often I have yet another dream based on Matt Ruff’s book The Mirage, and they’re often the most vivid dreams. Like this morning’s.

In my dream, I’m an elderly computer tech, on early retirement for psych disability, living in the declining midwestern industrial city of Kabul, and the new President (former Senator) bin Laden has frozen all refugee applications from several predominantly-Christian countries in war-torn North America. That’s causing a lot of distress in Kabul, because my neighborhood in Kabul revived its economy, over the last couple of decades, by taking in refugees from war-torn countries all over the world, from America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, in various waves.

And I was playing on my computer while listening to a podcast, where they were interviewing three experts because of an idea that had come up, on the left, that maybe everybody in the UAS, or at least all liberals, should celebrate Thanksgiving this coming November, in solidarity with oppressed Christian refugees.

The first person interviewed was a pro-refugee activist, part of the Thanksgiving Campaign. She argued that there’s nothing explicitly Christian about Thanksgiving. All People of the Book worship the same God, Allah, and arguably the Americans have invented something wonderful: a day when all of the People of the Book should get together with their families to be thankful for Allah’s blessings, without any sectarian historical baggage. Don’t we all have things to be thankful to Allah for?

The second person interviewed was a civil libertarian who disputed the first person’s argument that Thanksgiving is non-sectarian. He pointed out that it is an explicitly Christian holiday, but then went on to remind the interviewers that ever since the ratification of the Constitution, the United Arab States has guaranteed freedom of religion to all People of the Book. When asked if Muslims (or, for that matter, Jews) should celebrate Thanksgiving or merely tolerate it, he pointed out that Muslims don’t really share the American experience, that the holiday doesn’t mean the same thing to us that it does to them. He also raised the issue of cultural appropriation: Muslims should leave Thanksgiving to the Christians, not mock them (however unintentionally) by reducing their culture to turkey dinner and Puritan costumes.

The third person interviewed was, of course, a spokeswoman for the bin Laden administration. She was particularly angry that this argument for a pan-sectarian Thanksgiving was coming up now, and called it a pro-Crusader attack on the President by people who were trying to bring Canon Law to the United Arab States. The first Thanksgiving was, after all, she pointed out, a celebration of a victory by Christians over the Native Americans, and the current Thanksgiving was war-time propaganda during the American Civil War, an appeal for Christian unity. She said that anybody who thinks that Muslims should celebrate Thanksgiving is siding with Dick Cheney against their own people at a time when Dick Cheney’s “crusader” terrorists from places like Texas were disguising themselves as Confederate refugees in order to create sleeper cells for more crusader terrorist attacks. She accused the left of forgetting the November 9th, 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center in Baghdad.

I came away from it with the familiar thought that as a secularist Afghani, if Christians aren’t safe in bin Laden’s UAS, neither am I, and all too aware that refugees were the backbone of my community. I was thinking that you’d have to be an idiot not to realize that the refugees weren’t crusaders, they were the crusaders’ victims, fleeing from war — refugees are the most peaceful people, the most anti-war people, you’ve ever met, because they’ve seen the horrors of war up close. Some of them were even translators for our soldiers in Virginia, whose lives are at risk if we send them back to the Confederacy!

So I decided that maybe I should celebrate Thanksgiving this year, in my own secular, low-key way. No silly Puritan costumes, but maybe find an American-refugee restaurant that’s open that weekend and get some American food. Maybe with some friends. Maybe even try to find something to be thankful for, even if bin Laden is President.

14 Mar 00:21

#1299; The Ever-Watchful Eye of Everyone

by David Malki

The cost for all that telecine must be astronomical.

13 Mar 20:05

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Staring back at Theresa May

by Jonathan Calder
The new Liberator has arrived, which means it is time to spend another week with Lord Bonkers. Right from the off, he takes us to the heart of the debate on Europe.


I was resting my eyes in the Lords; when I opened them, there was the prime minister In Our House. What immortal rind! And she was staring at me. I wasn’t having that so I stared right back. When that didn’t work I went through my full gamut of faces: the lovesick Frisian; the angry walrus; Roy Jenkins on the lavatory.

That, I thought, had done the trick when she hurried out, but her place was taken by a Cabinet colleague. It was clear that a more organised approach was needed, so I took a party of Liberal Democrat peers (you may have noticed we are not exactly short of them) off to the tearoom for a spot of training in Hard Stares and pulling the aforementioned faces (though the Jenkins is not one for novices).

I am proud to announce that, after I had left for home, one of my pupils made a junior minister cry.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.
13 Mar 11:29

Based Upon…

by evanier

I think I need to clarify something. Back in this message, I was talking about the great villain Darkseid, created of course by Jack Kirby. The actor Jack Palance had just passed away and I wrote…

The style and substance of this master antagonist [Darkseid] were based on just about every power-mad tyrant Kirby had ever met or observed, with a special emphasis on Richard Milhous Nixon. Nixon was kind of the monster du jour for many in 1970 and he's still a fine template for various forms of villainy.

Beyond that kind of thing, it is not uncommon for comic artists to "cast" their creations, using someone they know or have observed as reference, and Kirby used Jack Palance as a model for Darkseid. I don't mean that he thought the other Jack had ever tried to enslave the universe…but Kirby had been impressed by one or more Palance screen appearances. They inspired some aspect of Darkseid…a look, a posture, a gesture, whatever. Most of all, it was probably a voice. When J.K. wrote dialogue for his comic book evildoer, he was "hearing" Palance in some film.

As I browse the 'net, I discover that this is being cited as "Mark Evanier says Jack Kirby based Darkseid's appearance on Jack Palance." Well, not exactly. Maybe I could have been more precise but it was more a matter of something about Palance's style and probably his voice that informed the character, not particularly his face.

Also, I should have said this: I don't think Jack ever based any character wholly on anyone, even those that might seem obvious. I remember at least three people we discussed who went into Funky Flashman. With Kirby, it was always an amalgam and sometimes, the reference points — while significant to Jack — would be quite invisible to anyone else. For example, the visual for the character of Big Barda was inspired by a Playboy layout of singer-actress Lainie Kazan…but that doesn't mean Jack was drawing Lainie Kazan. And the essence of Barda's personality clearly came from others, especially his wife Roz.

Do yourself a favor: Don't get too deep into trying to figure out that Jack based this character on that movie star. This is never a question with a simple answer and never just about the visual. He took elements of certain characters from certain performances by actors or from historical figures based on their deeds. Unless it was something like drawing Richard Nixon or Don Rickles into a story as themselves, the characters were all amalgams and they were points of inspiration, not models.

And while I'm at it: I keep seeing folks saying that Jack based the character of Granny Goodness on comedienne Phyllis Diller. I don't think so. He might have said that later as a joke…or if some enthusiastic fan came up to Jack at a convention and said, "I think I realized something, Mr. Kirby! You based Granny Goodness on Phyllis Diller, right?", Jack might well have said, "You figured it out," rather than disappoint the kid.

But I was working for Jack at the time and we talked a lot about Granny and I never heard him mention Phyllis Diller, nor did she ever play the kind of heartless villain Jack thought Granny Goodness was. I have a vague recollection that he did mention Shelley Winters and maybe even have a photo of her around…but that doesn't mean he based the whole character on her, either. At most, her performance or image in some role would be just one component.

The post Based Upon… appeared first on News From ME.

13 Mar 11:28

The persistence of kippers – looking at where post-referendum UKIP is now

by TSE

Most polls still have the purples in double figures

They are routinely derided by others.  The press loves to print stories of their wackier examples.  They are marginalised.  Their public figures are held up to ridicule.  Yet they make up roughly one in ten of the adult population.  I write, of course, of UKIP supporters.

Who are these people?  Where do they come from?  And why, eight months after Leave won the referendum and with the vote being implemented in a hardline version by a Conservative government, do they continue to see a need for a purple perspective?

On the face of it, UKIP’s purpose is complete.  It was established to get Britain out of the EU, and that is now in train.  It campaigned arguing that restricting immigration should be the priority, and the Government is now making that its touchstone for Brexit.  Nigel Farage himself has said that “I can hardly believe that the PM is now using the phrases and words that I’ve been mocked for using for years. Real progress.”

Nor can it be said that UKIP benefits from impressive leadership.  Since the referendum it has tripped over its own shoelaces repeatedly.  It has crammed in two leadership elections, with Diane James managing just 18 days in the role, probably the shortest tenure ever of a permanent leader of a political party with Parliamentary representation since universal suffrage and only twice as long in the top spot as Lady Jane Grey managed.

Her longer term replacement Paul Nuttall has already been turned into a figure of fun among those politically unsympathetic to UKIP with his apparently loose relationship with the truth. The first of these leadership elections included a fistfight at an MEP meeting that hospitalised one of the candidates.  The second leadership election threw up a candidate who claimed that a gay donkey tried to rape his horse and who owned a fortified compound in Bulgaria: he got 18% of the vote.  Meanwhile, UKIP’s chief funder is threatening to stand against UKIP’s only MP.  Without Nigel Farage, UKIP’s representatives look a complete shower.

Yet despite all this, UKIP remains surprisingly strong in the polls.  With the exception of Ipsos MORI, every opinion pollster has found that it continues to record at least 10% poll shares since the referendum result.  So it must have some continuing appeal that the other parties cannot meet. Let’s look further.

Drawing conclusions from the cross-breaks of opinion polls is always fraught with danger, particularly when dealing with small samples.  This risk can be reduced, though not eliminated, by looking at different opinion polls.  So I have looked at the tables of the latest polls from each of ICM, YouGov and ComRes.  The broad picture that they paint is sufficiently similar to give some confidence.

All three pollsters find that the great bulk of UKIP’s current support comes from their 2015 voters.  UKIP has, it seems, succeeded in hanging onto the largest part of those voters – all three pollsters find that it is retaining roughly two thirds of its 2015 vote, give or take a few percent.  To put that into perspective, the Lib Dems had lost two thirds of their vote in 2015 and have actually retained fewer supporters from that date to now.  The kippers seem to have built a brand to last, at least with some voters.

All three pollsters also find that UKIP is attracting a reasonable number of new supporters.  All three find that between a fifth and a quarter of current UKIP supporters voted for a different party in 2015.  Now this is not one way traffic.  All three pollsters find that far more 2015 UKIP voters have headed for the Conservative party than vice versa, and, contrary to received wisdom, the net flow of voters between Labour and UKIP only is only a trickle rather than a flood.  Nevertheless, this is not the polling of a party yet in terminal decline.

So what’s driving this?  YouGov and ICM both found that roughly a fifth of Leave voters are planning to vote UKIP.  (ComRes, oddly, do not look at their respondents through the prism of the referendum vote.)  Indeed, YouGov didn’t find any Remain supporters at all who were backing UKIP.  Essentially, it seems, that UKIP have become a party for Leave supporters who don’t trust the Government to follow it through.

Viewed in that light, I have two observations.  First, the continuing lack of trust of many Leave voters in the current Government is striking.  Even UKIP’s most loyal supporters would be pushed to suggest that it has given a good account of itself in recent months, yet despite UKIP’s very public shambles it still represents a more attractive proposition for a fifth of Leave voters than a Government that is pushing through a hardline Brexit with reasonable efficiency.  This suggests that Theresa May is right to worry about her right flank.  If Brexit softens or flounders, UKIP could revive in the polls sharply as the May violets that she has currently won over might return home again.

Secondly, if a hard Brexit is seen to be implemented, that’s a large cache of votes that the Conservatives might be able to draw upon, even if they lose votes on their Remain flank.  There’s no particular reason to assume that the Conservative vote share in the polls has yet peaked.

Alastair Meeks

Follow @AlastairMeeks