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Quick GE2017 Lessons

June 16, 2017

Some thoughts on larger lessons to be drawn from the surprise result of the UK 2017 general election.


Brexit is, thankfully, at risk. Hard Brexit is probably off the table and the difference between most soft Brexit’s and staying in is that we’re worse off. A Norway style deal means most of the obligations (including budget contributions) but no say.

But hard Brexit is worse than all these. The best deal for the UK (indeed, a wildly unfair deal) would be to stay on the old terms. This is unlikely.

Was it a Brexit election? Did the Remainers fail to get their revenge? The LibDems campaigned on a second referendum and lost! vote share (while gaining a few seats). Does this mean Remain is dead?

We can’t quite use the LidDem failure to say Remain is dead. I’m a hard core Remainer and I voted Labour. I may still vote against Corbyn in a leadership election on Remain grounds. I’d guess that most Remainers are not single issue and a lot of Remainers are anti-Conservative/hope to avoid hard Brexit types. Clegg probably lost in spite of his excellent Remoaning, not because of it.

Furthermore, LibDems are a third party. In a two party consolidation election they are likely to do poorly. And this is roughly what we see from the Ashcroft post election survey. Consider the party shift graph:


What’s striking is that both Labour and the Conservatives held onto around 80% of their 2015 voters. There wasn’t a lot of coming home of 2015-Conservative-voting 2010-Labour voters. UKIP collapsed mostly into the Conservatives (but they feel more like a generally spent party). LibDems held on to only 50% with a contingent hitting Labour. SNP had main party level retention, but few gains.

Compare with the party split of Referendum voters:


Labour is the party of Remain while the Conservatives are the party of Leave. But in neither case was it dominant. It seems that Labour is underperforming (compared to the Conservatives) for Remain voters who seem to defect to the LibDems (seems!).

The depressing chart is the “feeling toward Brexit” (enthused, accepting, resistent):q6-brexit-enthusiast-1024x923

The “all” line is the problem…only 28% are resistant. The Conservatives are definitely the party of Brexit, but Labour has a mixed bag.

Events may change things, but non-Brexit is a long shot given these results.

Bernie woulda won

I don’t go so far as Scott in saying that all “x woulda won arguments are useless”. Counterfactual reasoning is tough and the more divergent the counterfactual from the real would the weaker the possible evidentiary constraints. Analogical evidence from across different elections and election systems is also weak. Combine them and you are in speculation land.

Many of these arguments (pro and con) that I’ve seen are facile: “Corbyn did better than expected so Bernie would have done better than expected and won”. “Corbyn lost so Bernie woulda lost”. None of these are great. Trump was a much better campaginer than May. Republicans were structurally favored (a bit) whereas I think the Conservatives were structurally disadvantaged.

The interesting analogical argument (and I don’t have a source ready to hand, so perhaps I’m making it up) would be of the following form:

  1. Corbyn started from a ≈20 point hole.
  2. Corbyn ran a Bernie style campaign with a Bernie style manifesto and youth enthusiasm.
  3. Corbyn made up a big chunk of that 20 point hole.
  4. So Bernie would have seen a similar gain and won a landslide.

Of course, the problem, in general, is that in polarised two party systems, each marginal gain gets more difficult and acceleratingly so as you get to the rough party parity mark (50% in the US, 40-45% in the UK). Roughly, making up large amounts of ground from a low mark can be much easier than gaining a lead from near parity.

People looking at Bernie’s approval numbers (compared to, say, Clinton’s) might take as a cautionary note how May’s absurdly (we now know) approval numbers didn’t save her. One lesson is that approval (or disapproval) may be more tricky and less sticky than we thought.

My modest conclusion remains: Being Bernie/Corbyn left on policy, rhetoric, and perception just isn’t electoral poison in either the US or the UK and we should stop thinking that it is. Trump made lefty (if lying) noises! It doesn’t mean that left policy alone means victory…as we have direct evidence thereof. It just means that arguments about policy shouldn’t be dominated by a “if left, then unelectable”.


Music Monday: RIP Maggie Roche

January 23, 2017

Maggie Roche, of the Roches, died.

I learned about the Roches from Zoe and we had a fair number of their albums, alas all on cassette so I haven’t listened to them in quite some time. Her death is a sad prompt to get it together.

Anyway! Some of her song. Hammond Song is a classic. Thought for years I thought it was “If you go down to heaven”. It completely make sense as a death song!

If you go down to Hammond [ed: try not to hear “heaven!”]
you’ll never come back
In my opinion you’re
on the wrong track
We’ll always love you but
that’s not the point


The eponymous album is probably my (and a lot of people’s) favourite.  Quitting Time is also terrific, maybe better than Hammond Song and features Maggie’s deep deep voice on the vocals. (The recording of her is not ideal, imho, but still, overall, a standout recording.)

Maggie and Terre had an earlier album, Seductive Reasoning, that has two of my favourite songs, Malachy’s which I think is one of the best “performer” songs ever:

It’s a lightly melancholy blend of things that went wrong at a performance and of at least absent (perhaps lost) love:

Eddie said the lights were low
Tom said the treble was high
The boy with a beard in the corner
Laughed in the middle of a sigh
Don’t think we ever even caught his eye

Sometimes I used to find
I’d be singing to you
As if you were sitting
At the table by the door

The other is Underneath the Moon:

Aside from a jaunty piano riff, the lyrics we surprisingly important to me:

I overheard a wise gal say
Whose gentleman was her ruin
“Sweetness gets me nowhere
‘Cept, underneath the moon.”

Good men want a virgin
So don’t you give yourself too soon
‘Cept in an emergency
Like underneath the moon.

I heard this for the first time in the early days of my feminist evolution. I won’t say it’s super-feminist, but I found the casual defiance of an oppressive norm (keep your virginity!). It’s not a full defiance as it’s framed as an exception, but it charmed me nevertheless.

Maggie gave us so many great song. She will be missed.

Music Monday: More No Songs

November 21, 2016

Still feeling rather “No”esque, so here’s some “no” songs.

We have “No no no” by Milow:

It’s a cute little ditty that I just happened to find by typing “no no no” into YouTube’s search. The video has Milow street boxing with a…bear? A shaggy something at least.

And, of course, “Oh my god, I think I love you” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:

We have two places where “No” crops up. First in an early bridge:

But I say, “No no no! This is just about sex!”
And “No no no! Don’t be such a girl Becks!”
But then I feel the oxytocin creeping back to my brain
And all I can do is sing it again…
Oh my god, I think I like you…

And it trails off with:

But I say no no no
No no no
No no no…

These are some of the best moments in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (which are undercut and sort of lost in the second season which is still struggling to find its footing; losing Gregg doesn’t help!). The resistance and denial go through a number of subtle (and not so subtle) shifts throughout the song which are wonderfully supported by the sequence of events. (Rebecca scrubbing herself fiercely alone in the shower is starkly contrasted with her reluctant soft tenderness as she lies down with Gregg singing “No no no”.

Interestingly, Gregg basically doesn’t exist in the song. He has no words and is often asleep or occluded during their sexual encounters. We get none of his interior life nor do we get much of their actual relationship. It really is all in her head.

I did also stumble across Meghan Trainor’s NO, but, well, it’s really not for me.

Belated Music Monday: “What’s inside” from The Waitress

April 8, 2016

We went to a movie on Monday and I ran out of time to post. (Anomolisa which was wonderful and uncanny and will feature in a future Music Monday.) I’ve been baking some and in a fun way using Michael Ruhman’s Ratio. Ruhman is a wonder food/cookbook writer and Ratio attempts to shift your understanding of baking (or cooking in general) from sui generis recipes (perhaps with some variation) to a sort of “essential” definition (primarily in terms of the ratio of fat, flour, liquid, and sugar, at least for baked goods; though for somethings, like cakes, processing also matters). It’s amazing (though I’m not 100% on all bits or results yet; but the shift in perception is amazing; for now!).

It reminds me of Socrates’ critique of cooking (as a waystone to bashing sophistry and rhetoric) in the Gorgias:

Why, did I not hear you call it a certain habitude?

Then please—since you value “gratification”—be so good as gratify me in a small matter.

I will.

Ask me now what art I take cookery to be.

Then I ask you, what art is cookery ?

None at all, Polus.

Well, what is it ? Tell me.

Then I reply, a certain habitude.

Of what? Tell me.

Then I reply, of production of gratification and pleasure, Polus.

So cookery and rhetoric are the same thing?

Not at all, only parts of the same practice.

What practice do you mean?

I fear it may be too rude to tell the truth; for I shrink from saying it on Gorgias’ account, lest he suppose I am making satirical fun of his own profession. Yet indeed I do not know whether this is the rhetoric which Gorgias practices, for from our argument just now we got no very clear view as to how he conceives it; but what I call rhetoric is a part of a certain business which has nothing fine about it.

What is that, Socrates? Tell us, without scruple on my account.

It seems to me then, Gorgias, to be a pursuit that is not a matter of art, but showing a shrewd, gallant spirit which has a natural bent for clever dealing with mankind, and I sum up its substance in the name flattery. This practice, as I view it, has many branches, and one of them is cookery; which appears indeed to be an art but, by my account of it, is not an art but a habitude or knack. I call rhetoric another branch of it, as also personal adornment and sophistry—four branches of it for four kinds of affairs.

It’s also similar to the shift from “algorithmic math” to “proofy math” (actually, I’ve felt that that’s unfair to various forms of applied math; not everything that is not-cookbook math is proofs).

This leads me to the opening song of the Waitress, What’s Inside:

The opening starts with the words “sugar”, “butter”, “flour” sung very simply and continued throughout the song beneath the main verse (in a sort of “Broadway counterpoint”, I think). I love the opening! I just like hearing the words.

The first “real” version sets up the trajectory of the musical (as I understand it) in 4 lines:

My hands pluck the things I know that I’ll need
I’ll take the sugar and butter from the pantry
I add the flour to begin what I am hoping to start
And then it’s down with the recipe and bake from the heart

The last line expresses a sort of abandon that Socrates doesn’t quite seem to acknowledge. He’s concerned with the effect or aimed effect of cooking (or speaking) as opposed to the performative experience. Now, these aren’t wholly separate: Part of the pleasure of baking is thinking about how people will react (including one’s future self). But the doing contributes something different: Baking a cake is different than purchasing one even in that anticipation.

There’s a bridge:

What’s inside, everyone wants to know what’s inside
And I’ve always told them, but I feel something needs to change

Now the metaphor is clear: What’s inside the pie and what’s inside the pie maker which, in part, is the pie! It’s baked from the heart. (Wearing your heart on your sleeve in the form of pie gets messy.)

You wanna know what’s inside?
I could tell you if I wasn’t hiding
My whole life is in here
In this kitchen, baking
What a mess I’m making
The metaphor isn’t super complex, though it is neat (in the sense of the parts lining up well; perhaps “tight” is the right descriptor) and non-trivial (in the sense that there are quite a few parts). However, I’m finding it very affecting. The expression is really quite elegant and the introspective music lends it a powerful weight.
I want to see this musical (and hear the musical version of the songs)!

Music Monday: Three versions of Bing Crosby’s “Great Day”

January 25, 2016

In my first year of college (at Dickinson), I did the sound for a show that required 20s-40s music. There was a good music library and one of the music profs gave me a collection to use. Several tracks featured Bing Crosby (surprise surprise), but the stand out for me was this rendition of “Great Day”:

I found this pretty shocking, as my prior exposure had been the Kellogg’s commercial versions:

It’s a catchy song! But I had NO conception of the original nor that it was so thoroughly religious. Perhaps it’s a gospel song? It’s hard to Google.

I found a few other versions by Crosby that aren’t up to snuff:

Meh. Underproduced and no chorus back up makes it feel a bit weak.

This is like a jazz-disco version and I hate it!

McCartney’s version definitely echoes Crosby’s:

I’d never heard this before. It’s not bad at all! I think a straight cover could be interesting, esp. if Paul would do it all bluesy.

Some quick Googling has not turned up the history of this song! Or even whether McCartney’s is an homage.

I find it a bit grim! Though Gabriel’s horn rootin’ tootin’ cracks me up every time.


December 15, 2014

Just a weird little thing.

When scraping data from a paper (or any source), I grab both the numbers they give including derived numbers and try to rederive the numbers. This provides a couple of sanity checks (e.g., that my scraping was accurate) and gives me their “model” (even if it’s trivial).

Of course, you find stuff!

For example, I’m scraping the breakdown of a population across categories. The size of the population is 73,538 and they give both the number and the percentage in the breakdown. Thus, it’s trivial to rederive the percentage. So that’s what I do, but then I get four values that are off by one:

Paper Rederived
17.9 17.8
59.7 59.6
14.8 14.7
2.6 2.5

So, an off by one error. GRRR! Clearly this is a rounding problem, and looking at the unrounded results confirms this:

Paper Rederived Unrounded
17.9 17.8 17.8492752
59.7 59.6 59.64807311
14.8 14.7 14.74883734
2.6 2.5 2.548342354

Excel is doing the “right” thing here: It only looks at the digit before the target digit. Of course, this sort of rounding is not equivalent to the fixed point iteration (i.e., if I round(17.849) to 2 places I get 17.85 and if I round that to 1 place I get 17.9). But it’s far more common to do things the “right” way. (And it makes a lot of sense.)

What confuses me is how the heck did the paper get the iterated rounding version? Is there software out there that does it that way? My spot checking of Excel, Google Spreadsheets, and Python all yield the same behaviour.

Is this a big deal? Well, obviously not. Arguably, I don’t care about what’s beyond the decimal for these purposes and nothing about these differences is critical — or even  marginally relevant — for the paper’s results. However, it is an interopt and validation problem. What should have been two seconds took me 20 minutes. And what’s this software doing this weird rounding? Is it causing problems elsewhere?

New on the blogroll: Now Face North by the invaluable JL

December 9, 2014

JL is one of my absolutely favorite commenters on Lawyers, Guns, and Money. She is a true standout comment with a wealth of activism and other experience that she readily shares with sharp insight. She now has a blog! Read her blog!

Music Monday: Bad Lip Reading’s “Gang Fight”

December 8, 2014

While I love quite a bit of Bad Lip Reading’s video (the schtick, the dude’s mom went substantially deaf and learned to lip read by watching TV; being a good son, he turned off the sound and tried to learn as well; he’s really and hilariously bad at it), the only song that I like is the Bad Lip Reading of Rebecca Black’s “Friday”.

Fortunately, I don’t know the original and never will!

How can you not love the (very catchy) chorus:

Gang Fight, Gang Fight!
The gang is down to fight, yeah
Have I brought this chicken for us to eat?
Gang Fight! Gang Fight!
The gang is down to fight, yeah
Have I brought this chicken for us to thaw?

I believe the answer to those two questions is always YES! And I’m vegetarian!

Does ReST explain the bowtie gross structure of the Web?

November 24, 2009

While trying to prepare for a pitch talk to people we hope to recruit to our MSc program, I came across some stuff about the gross structure of the Web.

It’s a bowtie!

[The caption:] The bow-tie macroscopic structure of the Webgraph[BKM00]: the core, the IN component, the OUT component and the dendrites. Each of these parts contains around one quarter of the pages, the disconnected part being reduced to less than 10% of the whole.

But I don’t see that ReST has anything to say about that. “Hyperlinks” maybe. Perhaps that’s unfair because ReST is about the dynamics of the Web? Perhaps ReST is micro and this is macro? (But ReST purports to explain the architectural blah blah principles that are sufficient for the Web, or maybe necessary, or maybe both. That it doesn’t predict structure makes it sorta weak, I think. The principles may even be true, in some sense, but they don’t really form a theory.)