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Never Tell Me The Odds

I should have seen it coming. I should. But even while I ground my teeth and could no longer bear watching fivethirtyeight.com as their prediction for a Clinton win fell below two-thirds, I didn't really take the idea of a Trump presidency seriously. When, on election eve, I saw Nate Silver's team had put the odds at roughly 70-30, I permitted myself to be reassured even though I knew better.

Even though, before the World Series, they'd published an article saying that Trump had a better chance than the Cubs - and look what happened there.

Even though, if anybody should know just how uncertain a 70% chance is, it's a tabletop roleplayer.

70% is 14 and down on a 20-sided. If it was that much of a sure thing, nobody would ever roll critical hits.

Funny story.

My Pathfinder character, Anca, has a set of Boots of Teleportation. Usable for three Teleport spells per day. A couple of weeks ago, she wanted to make a quick visit somewhere and return. But Teleport spells are tricky, and she didn't know either location well. Her chance of making it successfully was (drum roll please) 70%.

I rolled 100, 70 and 83.

(She found another way back using a forgotten snacky. So it worked out in the end.)

Granted, elections aren't quite the same as die rolls. They're less frequent, and working out the odds is a lot more complicated. But the lesson is that, on a scale of 0 to 100, 30 is a hell of a lot more than zero.

(What's more, the result we appear to have got - a Clinton win in the popular vote, but a loss in the Electoral College - was calculated at 10%, another figure that can appear deceptively small.)

I wouldn't, if I could avoid it, stake my character's life on a 70% chance. And if Nate Silver tells you a US election has a 30% chance of going very, very badly, it's time to take notice.

Same Old Splainin'

Ehhh, kids these days. They have exactly the same half-baked, ill-informed opinions teenagers always have had; only now, said opinions can go viral so thoroughly that I can end up hearing about some lad in Essex's blunder by way of a gentleman in the US.

(Disclaimer - I'm not 100% certain he isn't just trolling, but this level of arrogant ignorance about the female reproductive system seems entirely within the bounds of reality, so I'll go with it.)

I do have a little sympathy for Ryan Williams. It's an indictment of this country's sex ed that a young adult can be under the impression that period blood comes from the bladder and can be 'held' in the same way as urine. (For the uninitiated, what started all this was a tweet saying that tampons are so a luxury item, because women should just be able to 'hold it' until they make it to the toilet. He later added, "I don't piss everywhere and demand free nappies.") It's partly thanks to this systemic inadequacy that he's attained notoriety by way of half the Twittersphere piling on to tell him he's an idiot. He was just too benightedly uninformed to even realise he was benightedly uninformed - it's classic Dunning-Kruger.

However.

The Tab tracked him down to interview him, and in the course of it something came out that I find far less excusable - namely this exchange:

So. Sorry. So, do you think that women menstruate from their bladders?
They do. It does.
Right. When women menstruate, it comes from their vagina. It doesn’t –
Oh god. Stop. This is getting too graphic for me. I’m sorry.

This is the bit that actually makes me angry. This dope tried to mansplain what women should do with our bodies - and then hid his head under the covers when someone tried to tell him how our bodies actually work. (He's quite happy discussing bladders, but the moment the word 'vagina' comes into play, suddenly the conversation's 'too graphic'. I kind of wish the interviewer had called him out on that - but maybe it was just as good to simply let it sit there.)

(And he's a Brexiter. Who, on the little evidence in the article, appears just as clueless about that as about periods.)

An acquaintance of mine one said something that stuck. "They'll forgive lack of knowledge. They won't forgive ignorance."

Donald Trump is still maintaining that the Central Park Five are guilty, despite clear evidence to exonerate them. He believes this on the basis that, "They admitted they were guilty," and " The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty." He either does not know or does not care how easy it is to coerce a false confession, or how difficult to get those involved in a prosecution to admit to a mistake. This is just one example. He constantly substitutes bluster and negativity for any policy details or evidence that he knows what in blazes he's talking about.

I think that's partly why he's doing so badly with women. Not that men are oblivious to this kind of thing, and female US voters are Democrat-leaning anyway... but I suspect many of them had Trump's number from the git-go, long before the conversation turned to sexual assault. One look at him in action, and they knew he's the know-nothing blowhard, the mansplainer, the interrupter in meetings and the catcaller in the street... the man who doesn't know what life is like for people who aren't like him, but assumes he does and so has no interest in learning.
Having already had one birthday celebration at the weekend (Dan's) I decided to not do anything special and instead spent Sunday binge-watching a gift from my sister and BIL, The Twilight Zone Season Three. This one contains the well-known (as in, spoofed on The Simpsons) episodes 'It's a Good Life' and 'To Serve Man', but the one that caught my attention was 'One More Pallbearer'. Without any SF or fantasy elements, it presents a chilling portrayal of narcissism. Paul Radin's plot for revenge on three people who have in the past publicly called him out for his selfishness hinges on an unexamined conviction that, in extremis, they'll behave exactly as he would. Lacking any genuine concern for other people, he assumes - insofar as he's thought about it at all, which likely isn't far - that everyone else is the same way, and that they put on a pretense so as to enable them to look down their noses at, well, him. The fact that most human beings (thankfully) aren't narcissists causes his evening to work out... unsatisfyingly.

(While diagnosis is of course impossible for a fictional character drawn over the space of 25 minutes, it's interesting to consider whether and how far his narcissism shades into sociopathy. Internet psychology suggests to me that a simple narcissist probably couldn't have constructed the kind of facade which has enabled his success; on the other hand, I suspect that a sociopath would just consider the three 'normal' characters a bit thick for putting emotional ties above their own best interests, and not even understand that his attempt to reveal their true selves has succeeded all too well and shown up his own vileness.)

An odd coincidence that I should come across this at a time when Trump and his enablers' projection has been thrown into especially sharp relief. Trump himself has referred to his critics over the Access Hollywood recording as, "self-righteous hypocrites." Nigel Farage has called such demeaning references to women as, "the kind of thing, if we're honest, that men do." And a Young Turks reporter filmed a couple of Trump supporters making it clear that they, too, consider it perfectly normal talk among men. (Starts at 5:10.)

All in all I'm left with the impression that Trump and many of his defenders honestly believe that:

1. Spouting sexist, objectifying garbage about women is normal.
2. Everybody knows it's normal, with the possible exception of humourless dyke feminazis.
3. The idea that such language normalises sexual assault is the invention of humourless dyke feminazis and has no basis in reality.
4. The people criticising Trump over this don't really believe it's bad (and the men among them engage in the same behaviour themselves) but are pretending otherwise because it's an excuse to pile on.

Radin never thought to question how, if everybody was like him, a society had developed in which it was socially unacceptable not to pretend otherwise. With his narcissistic self-involvement, Trump thinks that all men would treat woman the way he does if they could get away with it. Has he ever wondered how the minority of humourless dyke feminazis have managed to turn this into a vote loser? (Only as I'm typing this, I'm watching a succession of Trump supporters swear that if Clinton wins, that will mean the election is rigged because everyone they talk to is voting Trump. Hmm. Echo-chamber political movements and individual narcissism - related, or just similar-looking? Need to give that some thought.)

The Virtues of Secret Ballots

OK, totally not going into THAT just yet. Instead, to cheer myself up (and, dare I hope, someone else) I shall relate an anecdote about one of my favourite historical figures: Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, Military Maverick and/or Magnificent Bastard, largely depending which side one was on. (It was the French who first dubbed him Sea Wolf.)

At least one of his biographers thinks it's true, and regarding some stories I permit myself not to worry too much about whether they're factually accurate, because dammit, they ought to be.

So, with that caveat:

Aside from his highly successful career in the Navy (partly due to his willingness to completely ignore rules he found inconvenient, which can be a character flaw or a virtue, depending on how one looks at it) Cochrane ran for election in Honiton. This was at a time when votes were declared publicly, and outright bribery of voters quite common.

In June 1805, he refused to promise any payout for votes, while his opponent was offering five guineas. He lost, but then gave everyone who had voted for him ten guineas apiece.

In October 1806, he ran again, and won. The men who had voted for him came along expecting to have their palms crossed with gold.

He told them to get lost. “The former gift was for their disinterested conduct in not taking the bribe of five pounds from the agents of my opponent. For me now to pay them would be a violation of my own previously expressed principles.”

I think this kind of self-righteous bridge-burning behaviour partly demonstrates why he later got convicted (likely framed) for fraud and ended up leaving the country for a time to work as a mercenary. I doubt I'd have liked him very much in person. Yet in many ways – some good, some bad – he was ahead of his time.

Too Bored to be Outraged

So on Tuesday night when the Dance of Death gang were at nyarbaggytep's, Rob said he didn't read the Metro any more because it annoyed him. The conversation moved on before I got to mention my observation that it at least seemed of late to have been making less of an effort to find excuses for printing photos with as much female flesh on display as possible.

Cut to Wednesday morning, when a story about Kim Kardashian publicising two nude shots was illustrated with both the images in question. Plus a bonus one of her in a backless dress with Kanye, which had no apparent relevance. And, below it, a piece about a Mexican weather forecaster's prominent buttocks - also, of course, illustrated; and while in this case she was fully dressed, one suspects this was purely down to what images of her were available. Oh, and today one of the Kardashian pictures was printed again on the letters page.

Contrast with Tuesday, when an article about fans' reactions to Tom Hiddlestone appearing in a swimming costume in The Night Manager had a grainy picture attached that stopped at his mid-chest.

But when it's about a woman appearing in a state of undress, they just have to show us what the fuss is about - as thoroughly as possible.

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Sniping at Snipers

This appeared in my morning Metro:

Any professional marksman will tell you that the high magnification optics used as rifle sights deliver crisper images. Only a novice would load the rifle while using the sight for observation.

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The Outsider

So, an establishment outsider widely thought to represent the extreme fringe of the party is still the strongest runner in the race.

What's that? No, no, not Jeremy Corbyn, I haven't been under a rock all week. I'm talking about Donald Trump.

Well, it is kind of an interesting parallel, don't you think? Both, in their own way, outsiders, not initially seen as serious candidates, both branded 'unelectable', one more left-wing than the rest of the field and the other... well, if you believe Melissa McEwan he says the things the seasoned politicans don't dare, which I guess comes to a similar thing. And both have energised the relevant section of the electorate like no other.

I'm not the only one to make a connection. Check out the cover story on a recent Money Week:
Barbarians at the gate: Corbyn, Trump and the new populist threat


Then again, there's populist and there's populist. Trump's brand of populism speaks to some of the Republican base's worst instincts - racist, misogynist, homophobic; be part of Us and I'll make your life better by giving Them the screwing they deserve for not being Us too.

The closest I've heard Corbyn get to this kind of rhetoric is in his proposals to raise revenue from rich people and banks. Winning over some of the financially poor and politically mostly-powerless by blaming other poor and powerless people isn't his style.

I can hope that Corbyn will be more successful than Trump in the end. That perhaps he'll shift the Overton Window a bit. Or at the very least, that the mainstream press and the Labour establishment will stop sniping long enough to pay attention to the fact that (as I see it) a quarter of a million people just stood up and yelled, "Stuff austerity!"

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Grimm, again

Warning: spoilers up to 4.15, “Double Date”

Grimm, sadly, has been getting worse. It's not just that the creators seem to honestly expect us to be distracted by the latest sparkly new Wesen species they wheel out – to the point where I have long since ceased tormenting myself with the question of how all these varieties can have breeding populations and still leave room for humans to be both the vast majority and also mostly unaware – it's that sometimes I get the feeling that they just don't give a damn.

Cut to spare your Friends FeedCollapse )

(What's that you say? The election? Pshaw, too depressing.)

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

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In all – yes, it was fun, enough so that I may yet fork out for it again while it's still in cinemas. But I don't see myself rewatching the DVD as often as its predecessor.

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So, about that election thingy

Another election – and more Nadine Dorries. Remember this? (Updated link to video here.)

Well, this year, Tim Ireland decided to run in Mid-Beds as an Independent; and Dorries refused to attend a hustings because her 'stalker' would be there.

Y'know, normally when a woman says she's being victimised by a man, my instinct is to believe her. When that woman is Dorries, who has a track record of acting as if it's a terrible imposition to ask her to be accountable for her actions or her use of public money... frankly, if she told me it was raining I wouldn't reach for an umbrella until I'd looked out of the window for myself. Even if she genuinely did find the scrutiny distressing, I have difficulty feeling any sympathy and am unconvinced that Ireland has done anything improper or illegal.

Once again I find myself asking how far Dorries is a conscious liar and how far she's just superb at convincing herself of what suits her to be true; once again it doesn't matter all that much. She may indeed remember that Ireland 'totally disrupted' the 2010 Flitwick hustings but the video suggests that she herself was the disruption. Certainly nobody was 'forcing' her to walk out.

And then we have this tripe, which undercuts itself most effectively if one knows to whom it's referring. The pixellated still from a 'terrifying' YouTube video in which Ireland 'brandishes a torch made from a plastic gun' is from this demonstration of how he turned said gun into said torch and it's hard to see how it could be considered threatening; likewise, while Dorries' name frequently appears on Bloggerheads, her claim that, “From about 2008, for several years, he wrote about almost nothing but me on his blog – hundreds of words every day,” is demonstrably untrue. And hell, it's the Daily Mail. Why even bother?

So once again, fuck Dorries for taking advantage of feminism's achievements (stalking being acknowledged as a bad thing, her getting to be an MP in the first place) whilst trash-talking it, sneering at women who don't meet her standards of attractiveness, doing her damndest to curtail abortion rights and generally being a misogynist dirtbag.

Um, right, actual politics. Right to buy, maybe? Not happy with Tory ideas. Here, read this.

So far, I've had several Labour leaflets through the door an absolutely nothing from any other party. Come on, guys, you could at least try.