For the last two years or so (roughly since I got a computer in my room…) I’ve not been reading as much as I used to, or feel like I ought to. Since I’m now a member (and Librarian — Oook!) of the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group (OUSFG), which means access to a near-limitless supply of recommendations and books (of SF, at least, and why would you want to read anything else?), and there’s a vac coming up, I feel like I should fix that.
I also just found the blog of another OUSFG member, Matt (who’s leant me his Buffy and Being Human DVDs (there’s a lot of SF TV I ought to watch too, but I don’t need extra encouragement to sink hour after hour into TV watching)), who mentions setting himself a target of 52 books in a year. Challenge accepted.
A book a week seems like a lot, especially during term. But it’s probably less than I used to get through, and a book in two weeks during term seems reasonable, if I divert a bit more leisure time away from mindlessly surfing the ‘net and rewatching TV, which leaves roughly 1.5/week in the vac – also pretty achievable.
So: rules. 52 books by this time next year (end of 8th week of Hilary term, 2013-03-09 in muggle money). Anything I read for my degree doesn’t count. Anything I’ve read in the last 12 months or so doesn’t count. Following Matt, consecutive books can’t be by the same author. Hold me to it, Internet.
What am I going to read? I’ve still got a reading list from a couple of years ago – a lot of that is philosophy, which is part of the reason why that ground to a halt, but there’s some good stuff on it. I’ve also got ridiculous numbers of second-hand books I’ve bought but barely opened, and access to the OUSFG library :) (I’m using OUSFG’s list of Desert Planet Books for some suggestions). I had typed out a partial list below, but WordPress ate it and I can’t be bothered to retype it. Any suggestions (and I’ll only treat them as suggestions, unlike last time), let me know.
PS: No philosophy. I’m looking at you, Sean :P
continue reading »
Posted by Jonathan
Categories: Reading list
There was an interesting idea mentioned in passing in a discussion on class on this week’s Americana (worth subscribing to IMO) (26 MB mp3). It’s about 11 minutes in, but the discussion is from the start.
Basically, the idea of the American Dream means that working class Americans often vote against their economic interests, because they want policies that will help them “when” they’re better off, and so they paradoxically end up reducing social mobility. This is probably tied to the fact that (partly since class in America is almost purely economic?) almost everyone thinks of themselves as middle class.
False hope — through religion, through promises of wealth (or marrying a prince?) — is the opium of the people.
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
Workers of the world, unite!
Posted by Jonathan
| Tagged: class
(Assuming you can vote, that is. grumble stupid parents grumble born two months too late grumble….)
I did have 1500 words written here and I still hadn’t finished tearing the No campaign apart, but if you want a long and detailed essay, you can go elsewhere. (See the bottom of this post for reccomendations). So here’s a fairly brief explanation of why First Past the Post (FPTP) sucks, and why the Alternative Vote (AV) is better.
FPTP leads to tactical voting or disenfranchisement
That is, voting for someone you don’t really want to keep someone you loathe out. AV lets you do both: say that you’d rather have your favorite, but still express a preference for the lesser of two evils. For example, if you’re reading this blog there’s a pretty good chance that Labour would have been your first choice in the last election, but in my constituency the only two candidates with a chance of winning were Nick Clegg and $generic_tory. So you’d probably have voted Clegg if you could. Result: either your vote is worthless, or you have to choose between two pretty shit alternatives. FPTP sucks. (Yes, there are circumstances in which tactical voting theoretically makes sense under AV (as in any voting system), but these are rarer, and in practise you’re unlikely to have enough information about everyone else’s preferences for it to be worth the risk of voting tactically.
FPTP lets in people the majority of the electorate would rather keep out
It’s pretty easy, given the right seat, to get elected under FPTP with 40% or less of the vote, if the vote against you is split, even if the remaining 60% would all prefer a particular one of the other candidates to you. This tends to be a particular problem in the UK with Tories getting elected thanks to a splitting of the left-wing vote between Labour and the Lib Dems. That may be less of an issue in the near future, but the problem remains, and it affects all parties both ways to varying degrees in different places. (I suspect it’s a huge problem in Northern Ireland, with two large parties on either side of the intractable divide and a fifth bunch saying “can’t we all just get along?”)
AV is seeeeeeeemples *squeak*
Flowchart by Anthony Smith.
AV is slightly more complicated in terms of what you have to do to the ballot paper (although if you just want to vote for one candidate, that’s fine. You should even be able to do it with a cross). Emphasis on slightly. If you can’t understand AV, you probably shouldn’t be allowed near sharp things like pencils. AV’s an awful lot simpler, though, in terms of deciding how to vote.
AV will not help the BNP
Under FPTP, the BNP could concievably get an MP elected with, say, 35% of the vote in one constituency (Caroline Lucas, albeit at the other end of the political spectrum, and probably less widely loathed, got elected with just 31.3% of the vote as a Green in Brighton) by finding a seat where the “not a racist nutter” vote is split more-or-less evenly between the three big parties. Under AV, they’d need 50% of the electorate preferring them to the next candidate. That’s much less likely to happen.
AV will not lead to pandering to BNP voters for second preferences either. (Let’s face it, this happens — for tactical first preferences — at the moment under FPTP). Simply, there are far more Lib Dems’ second preferences to be lost for Labour and the Tories than BNP second preferences to be gained by playing the racism card. Under FPTP, Lib Dems are probably (wild speculation here) less likely to vote tactically than BNPists, as they have more of a chance of election, so there may actually be less to be lost, so more pandering, under FPTP.
AV is a small change
On a national scale, AV will probably produce similar results to FPTP. (Gowers’s essay, linked below, has discussion of predictions (postdictions? alterdictions?) of the results of recent general elections under AV.) It matters on a constituency scale, though, that MPs have genuine support. AV is no more proportional in general than FPTP (a benefit to the Lib Dems is an effect on centrist parties, not small parties in general), so we shouldn’t expect any more hung parliaments or coalitions than we would get under FPTP (Australia, using AV for its House of Commons since forever, has had the same number of hung parliaments as the UK in that time.) AV does not [suffer the defects|have the advantages] (delete as appropriate) of proportional systems such as more power to small parties, more frequent coalitions and weaker government, and a loss of the direct link between 1 MP and 1 constituency.
Effects of a Yes vote
We get AV for future general elections (duh!). The Lib Dems may do slightly better in future (they probably would have historically, being generally preferred by both Tory and Labour voters to the other lot), but they’re in for a caning anyway, and I wouldn’t like to predict how things will go. The left in general will probably do slightly better, since splitting of the vote is generally a bigger problem on the Left than the Right. The prospect of further electoral reform is opened, both because the mood for change has been confirmed and because the Left is generally keener on it than the Right. We shouldn’t expect significantly more coalitions, or a significant change in minor parties’ share of seats (although the Greens, say, may be more electable in the long term). Nick Clegg gets a big smile on his face. Whether each of these is a good thing or not is up to you.
Effects of a No vote
Even if you voted no because you want (say) a proportional system, not AV, that’s not how it will be interpreted, least of all by the Tories. Bye-bye, electoral reform, for at least a generation. Tory governments with minority support are here to stay. David Cameron, George Osborne and the dinosaurs of old New Labour get big smiles on their faces. Again, whether each of these is a good thing or not is up to you.
A final plea
Don’t vote No to spite Nick Clegg. I hate him at least as much as you, but some things are more important. Firstly, to continue the tribal bickering, if you hate Nick Clegg, you probably hate Cameron and Osborne more. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face and give them what they want by voting No. Secondly, rising above the bickering, the results of this referendum will be affecting British politics long after Clegg is as distant a memory as the SDP (look it up) and that funny party broadcast with John Cleese in it. Don’t throw away the next fifty years for someone who’ll be kicked in the teeth and insignificant in four whatever you do.
- FPTP is deeply flawed: it elects unpopular candidates and makes people choose between helping someone they like and keeping out someone they hate.
- AV solves these problems nearly all of the time. It allows you to express your preference honestly without risking getting someone you really don’t like, it makes sure your MP is at worst seen as the lesser of two evils by most of the electorate.
- AV is simple — the No campaign almost deserves to lose just for their incredibly patronising argument that “it’s too complicated for the proles to understand”.
- AV will not help the BNP, will probably not increase and may reduce pandering to their supporters.
- AV is a small step in the right direction. It does not introduce the controversial aspects of proportional systems.
- A Yes vote makes elections fairer, leaves the prospect of further electoral reform at least no more closed than a “No”, and probably helps the Left and the Lib Dems slightly.
- A No vote leaves our unfair system in place for at least a generation. This helps the Tories slightly.
- This is more important than Nick Clegg and don’t you hate the Tories more anyway?
I deliberately haven’t addressed many of the No campaign’s stupid claims — I reccommend the first post linked below for comprehensive rebuttals of most of them, and I’m happy to take particular ones up in the comments if you want to.
Vote Yes to AV on May 5th for a fairer voting system.
Your vote matters. Turnout is going to be low, and young people are more likely to be pro-AV and less likely to vote. Change that, and make sure the result reflects what the country wants, not just what old people want. It’s your future at stake more than theirs.
- If you’ve got the time to read 10,000 odd-words (and it’s worth trying to find that time), Timothy Gowers, a Cambridge (I’ll forgive him :P) mathematician, has a very good essay, taking a slightly mathematically-oriented look at AV vs. FPTP. His supplementary post deals with a few more points.
- He also has a shorter (here meaning 5000 words!) post, making much the same points, but (slightly) more concisely — there’s also a summary in 24 points at the bottom of that post that you really ought to read.
- Andrew has a post counting the No campaign’s lies, misleading statements and scaremongering.
- Dan Snow explains AV and its benefits — and why we basically use it all the time — in this video or this image.
- For a snappy explanation of why FPTP sucks, you can’t do much better than this, amusing interpretation of “parma violets” optional.
- AV explained for cats!
- Let’s AV a Beer has a compilation of videos, posters and articles making the case for AV.
If I come across more, I’ll post them here; feel free to make suggestions in the comments.
Posted by Jonathan
| Tagged: av
The book is past the statute of limitations on spoilers, so read on at your own risk.
- OK, the director and screenwriter clearly ship Harry and Hermione. Harry/Ginny is played right down — where’s the “birthday present” scene? OK, maybe ratings for that. But they talk to each other for about five seconds, and it isn’t Ron who interrupts them either. And there’s tonnes of gratuitious Harry/Hermione sexual tension that just shouldn’t be there.
- There’s a scene where Hermione memory charms her parents. That gets about a line in the book. The film does it brilliantly. I thought we were in for more of an insight into Ron and Hermione, but Ron’s one-dimensional as ever and it turns out we’re only meant to like Hermione so we ship her and Harry.
- Hedwig’s death is crap. She randomly swoops straight into the path of an Avada Kevada that wasn’t even obviously headed for Harry.
- Where did the invisibility cloak go?
- The film does far better than the book with Voldemort = fascism. Also, say what you like about fascism, but the architecture’s great.
- Splinching is leaving behind body parts, not a few gashes in Ron’s arm.
- Are Ron and Hermione official in the book? Because there’s barely a hint of that in the film. They hug as they’re changing back into themselves from Harry, and that’s it. Further evidence that this film should be regarded as a Harry/Hermione ship fic.
- I shudder to think of the Rule 34 of multiple Harrys.
- Where did the wedding go? We seem to cut straight to the reception, leaving the final moment of happiness and optimism that the wedding provides. There was room for thirty seconds of wedding in there.
- Could they not have at least tried to paper over the massive plot-induced stupidity from the books that they always wear the locket instead of putting it in Hermione’s bag or something?
- The effects are generally a bit OTT, but the scene where Ron confronts his fears to destroy the locket has them turned up to eleven when they need to be on about two. Swirling clouds with random lights, hordes of spiders, booming voices, phantasmal naked Harry and Hermione (with strategically placed clouds) making out (see what I mean about shipping?). As I read the books, that stuff is in Ron’s head. The effects turn it from Ron’s redemption into just another dramatic effects sequence. (They really don’t like Ron, do they?)
- “Blackthorn, ten inches.” “Engorgio!“. Hey, maybe that’s why Hermione is so pissed off at Ron…. Anyway, lots of wand-based innuendo.
- Hey, that’s supposed to be Griphook. You could, you know, remind us though, instead of expecting us to remember him from the first film. I’m not even sure he looks the same.
- That’s Shell Cottage, where Bill and Fleur live. No need to tell us that to explain why they’ve just Apparated right next to a house, when they’ve been in the middle of nowhere all the rest of the time.
- “Here lies Dobby, a free elf.” Where did that go? Instead, the film ends with some slightly homoerotic shots of Voldemort taking the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s tomb then *ahem* shooting his magical lightning juice into the air (see above).
- The film’s pretty short — slightly over two hours, and it didn’t feel like they’d cut very much from the book. I think they could probably have cut a few more gratuitous sweeping countryside shots and squeezed it all into one long film. Actually, though, to be fair, I’ve got a feeling Part 2 will be faster, and I think fitting everything into one film would be a push. (Youth of today, no appetite for six-hour films.)
Overall impression: Fairly good, and less annoying that any of the rest I’ve seen (that doesn’t include Half-Blood Prince).
Posted by Jonathan
I’m writing this on one of those seemingly interminable angsty nights, (sort of ironic) so it may not make a lot of sense.
Time flies when you’re having fun — it certainly seems true to me. I’m not sure about the converse, but see the above comment about interminable angsty nights. I’d say I’ve been generally pretty happy (barring the odd bout of angst (I’m writing “angst” a lot tonight)) since I got my act together with coursework early in Year 11 (not sure that was the cause, but it feels like a turning point), and I’m now going “was that really two years ago”? Looking back, I realise I’ve done a lot and changed a lot since then, but it’s still a shock that I’ve just applied for university, my friends a year above me are there already and relaying tales, my friends in my year are driving to school, turning 18…. Time’s flown. I’ve tried to make the most of it, and I think generally I haven’t done a bad job, except for this summer, where apart from a week’s camping in the Lakes I did almost exactly nothing, from a long list of things I wanted to do but never actually turned into a list (wherin lies my problem, I think), but there’s so much more I wish I’d done and was doing. I’ve got into the probably unhealthy habit of staying up late into the night at my computer, I suppose so I’m living a little more life. I spend quite a lot of time doing various not-particularly-productive bits and pieces, and sometimes I feel I’d like to cut down on that, but I generally feel like I need that downtime.
As I mentioned before, I’ve just applied to university. I’ve been back at school over a month, and it feels like I’ve hardly had chance to breathe. I really don’t have all that much time left at school, then the long summer holiday, then I’ll be at university. What scares me is this rush towards adulthood and middle age. Given the rate the last two years have gone, a four-year degree won’t feel that long, and then I’m looking for a job or a PhD studentship. Heck, the last 17 and a bit years haven’t felt like all that long. That long again (and it’ll feel shorter) and I’m practically middle-aged. OK, I’m just scaring myself now. But I really do feel like there’s so much to do and so little time. I’m starting to rethink my long-held belief that eighty or ninety years will be more than long enough for me. Heck, what I could really do with is a clone with a shared mind (also xkcd 105).
In the meantime though, I think the practical solution is to keep up with work and try to have a bit of fun productive stuff — reading list and stuff, maybe NaNoWriMo — during term, and have busy holidays. I need to plan next summer far more than this one was, because it’ll be longer, I ought to do far more, and even my trip to the Lakes was a bit last-minutey and probably not quite what I’d have gone for if I’d have planned in time. I’m thinking of cycling in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and/or Germany (Paris to Berlin is probably waaaaaay overambitious but would be awesome), maybe working for a month or so, having an epic crunch of my reading list, I’ll need to prepare for university… see what I mean about needing two of me?
This was mostly written last night (relative to posting time). I wasn’t angsty by the end, but I wasn’t tired either :(
tl;dr: I’m getting old.
Posted by Jonathan