Polls apart

So how accurate did my election forecast turn out to be? Well, I correctly predicted that the vote would happen yesterday, but got just about everything else wrong. I don’t feel too bad though, since even the professional pollsters were way out, and nobody was talking about a Conservative majority.

Which is of course the nightmare scenario. Things were bad enough in the last parliament, when the Tories were at least mildly restrained by the LibDems, so goodness knows how grim it will get in the next few years. Last time round there was some hope that the rightward drift of the government might provoke a left-leaning backlash, but, outside of Scotland (where the situation is more complicated than it looks at first glance), that never really materialised, and the chances of a progressive resurgence seem even slimmer today.

Oh well, back to the barricades I guess. Though I’m getting too old for all that street politics stuff…

Final prognostication

The polls in the UK General Election open in a few hours, so I guess I’d better put my political reputation on the line by predicting who will come out on top once the votes have been counted.

Here’s my forecast:

Labour will be the biggest party, though they won’t have an overall majority. They will do better than expected in Scotland though, and the SNP won’t have the influence that they have been hoping for. The LibDems will take a bit of a hammering, but won’t be wiped out. UKIP will have one or two seats at most. The Tories won’t be too far behind Labour, but they won’t be able to put together a workable coalition. Labour won’t go into coalition either, but the anti-Tory numbers will add up to make a minority government possible.

So… Our next Prime Minister will be Ed Milliband. Things will be rocky for a while, but will stabilise, and he’ll serve a full term.

A Labour government will be different from a Tory government, and the more marginalised sections of the community will probably do a bit better, so I suppose that this result would be the least bad possible. I’m not expecting any revolutionary changes – as time passes I’m getting more resigned to the idea that I won’t see such developments in my lifetime. Though if there’s one thing that history teaches it’s that you seldom see these things coming, so there’s always hope.

Anyway, check back in a couple of days, and we’ll see how right I was…

Smoking up

It’s 4/20 again, and it’s good to see that the tide of marijuana legalisation seems unstoppable, in the US at least.

Sadly there’s no sign that any of the big parties contesting the election over here are going to make freeing the weed a major part of their platforms. This might be a missed opportunity; in a close race the stoner vote could just swing it. Assuming they get it together enough to turn out…

Long range forecast

Well, I’ve been reading the papers, keeping up with the polls, and watching the debates on TV, but I’m not feeling any more confident about calling the outcome of the election. I have managed to come to one conclusion however; my confusion isn’t down to any inherent unpredictability in the process, but rather stems from my inability to imagine why the electorate might choose to vote one way rather than another.
This in turn is at least partly due to the homogeneity of the political scene here; while there are some differences between the parties they are all singing from essentially the same pro-capital hymn sheet. The left is even more marginalised than it was five years ago, and class-based politics is all but dead, so an old Bolshevik like myself has no sense of which way the population might be leaning, since from my perspective the available options are all equally bad.

But a more personal, and probably more important, factor is my gradual withdrawal from active politics over the last decade or so; I’m almost totally reliant on second-hand reports of what is agitating the public mind, most of them gathered through the unreliable channel of social media. Add in the decline of my youthful certainty, and some age-related general bewilderment, and it’s little surprise that I have no idea who is going to come out on top at the start of May.

Perhaps it’s all just too close to home; anxiety about how the outcome might affect my personal circumstances may be clouding my judgement. I certainly find it much easier to pronounce authoritatively on what will happen across the Atlantic; Hillary will win. You read it here first.

Predictably unpredictable

After months of anticipation the UK General Election is finally upon us. All the pundits are saying it’s the most unpredictable contest since, well, the last one, but I feel I should hazard some sort of forecast.

So, based on an entirely unscientific reading of a few highly selected news feeds, I’m going to say… no, it is too hard to call at the moment. The broad outline of the debate seems clear – it’s going to be won and lost on the economy – but there are enough confounding factors to leave the likely outcome frustratingly obscure. How much will the Liberal vote collapse, and where will it go? Will UKIP supporters return to the Tory fold? Will Labour do as badly in Scotland as the polls seem to suggest?

I guess things may become clearer over the next few weeks, and I will get round to making a prediction before polling day. In the meantime I’ll try to keep up some sort of commentary on developments, which might help focus my own thoughts on the matter, if nothing else.

Total eclipse of the blog

I did manage to catch a glimpse of the partial solar eclipse last week, as the thick grey cloud that habitually blankets the sky at this time of year briefly parted. Though my view of it only lasted a few seconds it was quite impressive, a reminder of the eternal procession of the celestial host.

Except of course it’s not eternal. In about six billion years, the sun, the moon and the earth will all be gone, along with every trace of humanity and its works.

When you think about cosmic time scales like that, a month between blog posts doesn’t seem so bad…

Will this do?

Back at the start of this month I renewed the secondlifeshrink.com domain for another year. As I handed the $50 over to WordPress I resolved that I would try to start posting regularly again, confident that I could manage a long, thoughtful essay every couple of weeks or so.

Yet here we are on the evening of the 28th, and I’m hurriedly penning yet another apologetic space-filler. It’s not for want of inspiration; at various points in the last few weeks I have mentally composed pieces on some of our favourite subjects, like the effects of internet addiction and its treatment, the unreliable nature of memory in the digital age, and the political situation in Europe, but none have made it into print. Normally I would plead overwork as an excuse for this lamentable state of affairs, but I’ve actually been off work most of the last month, and, perhaps predictably, my productivity hasn’t been improved by a strict regime of getting stoned and reading comic books.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. We do have a potentially exciting election coming up, which should give me something to write about, and I’m planning to stay straight for the foreseeable future, which will help with my focus, so I’m sure SLS will soon be back on track…

Greeks bearing gifts

It generally takes something momentous to wake me from my mid-winter slumber, but such an event has just arrived in the shape of the very encouraging victory of the radical left party Syriza in the Greek general election.

The next couple of weeks will be interesting, as we wait to see who blinks first in the negotiations over reducing and/or rescheduling Greek debt. It seems likely that there will be some sort of deal, since I don’t think either side is willing to see the fallout that would result from a default. There isn’t much room for manoeuvre though; the Greek people desperately need some relief from years of crushing austerity, and failure to deliver this would precipitate a massive political crisis in Athens, while the ECB is wary of seeming too lenient on the debt question, lest it encourages similar popular uprisings in other parts of the Eurozone. My guess is that the eventual compromise will favour the Greeks, since things can’t get much worse for them, so they have less reason to back down. The Germans don’t seem to be in a forgiving mood though, so it could go either way.

The situation in the UK doesn’t really parallel that in Greece. We have had some austerity, but it’s been on nothing like the same scale; crucially the middle class, while squeezed, have not been completely impoverished. There is no left formation analogous to Syriza either, anti-austerity sentiment taking on more of a diffuse, localised form. That said, if things work out well for the Greeks it will give a boost to the left here, and perhaps inject some excitement into our own election campaign. Whatever happens the result has shown that markets and bankers don’t have a monopoly on power, and that the voice of the people can’t be ignored.

2014: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

This has been the year that I’ve had to face up to the fact that this blog is all but dead, and I can no longer honestly call myself a blogger. Gone are the days when, on hearing an interesting piece of news, or reading an intriguing article, my mind would immediately start working on a post for this space. I am still occasionally inspired by events to turn out a few lines, but, more often than not, I let the thought slip away. Consequently I’ve managed a mere 20 posts over the last 12 months, including this one. I’m happy with most of the individual pieces, but there are not enough of them to fully record where my head was at this year, which is the whole point of having a personal blog. I’ve completely ignored some momentous events, in my internal and external worlds, and while I have noted my reactions to these in other places, it would have been nice to have them collected here for posterity.

Anyway, on with the review. We do still get a steady stream of traffic, though I suspect a lot of it must be robotic; certainly all the comments we get are spam. Here are our top ten posts for the last year:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. On Second Life and addiction
  3. Free Pussy Riot!
  4. Ferrisburg, Vermont
  5. Like Pompeii (or Herculaneum)
  6. Second Life, with graphics, on the iPhone?
  7. Win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me
  8. A Radical Game
  9. What’s up
  10. Bastille Day 1989

All of these are years old. The posts on demographics and addiction have been at the top for a while; they got linked to quite a bit back in the day, which must still be drawing in some hits. I have no idea why the other posts should be more popular than the rest of the stuff in our archive though. I suppose I could study our referral patterns to glean some clues, but that seems significantly more trouble than it would be worth.

Of this year’s posts, these are my favourites:

We still get traffic from all over the world, 95 countries in all, including China, which I’m sure used to block us. Here’s the top 10:

  1. United States
  2. Brazil
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Germany
  7. Australia
  8. Italy
  9. Mexico
  10. Netherlands

Topic-wise it’s been mainly history, politics, culture and nostalgia. Only one post this year directly concerned Second Life (though another one alluded to it), and my total time spent on the grid has probably added up to a couple of hours at most. Despite this I did renew my premium membership in October, but I can’t for the life of me think why, since my interest in the virtual world is practically nonexistent these days. Perhaps the original spark will reignite.

So what of the future? Every year around this time I resolve to be more productive, and it never happens; maybe it’s time to admit that this project is finished, and to move on to something else. We’ve been going close on eight years now though, and I do look back fondly on my past scribblings. Even this year hasn’t been a complete write-off – I think my New York nostalgia post from July is up there with our best – so I guess I’ll manage to keep plugging away…

2014: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

Back in January I took the momentous decision to stop buying CDs, and start downloading music instead. (I am aware that downloading is passé, and streaming is where it’s at, but give me some credit for finally leaving the 1980s and catching up with the 21st century.) I’ve also been listening to the radio a lot more, mostly BBC 6, and the combined result has been that I’ve got into a lot of new artists, rediscovered some old favourites, and acquired loads of records this year. Far too many to list here (they’re all on my Culture Tumblr if you’re interested), so I’ll just feature the best tracks from my ten favourite albums, in no particular order:

Moaning Lisa Smile – Wolf Alice (Creature Songs)
An Ocean In Between The Waves – The War On Drugs (Lost In The Dream)
Your Love is Killing Me – Sharon Van Etten (Are We There)
We Are Coming Back – Marissa Nadler (July)
Can’t Be Too Responsible – Avi Buffalo (At Best Cuckold)
Woke Up In My Future – Haley Bonar (Last War)
Love Song – Dawn Landes (Bluebird)
Different Days – The Men (Tomorrow’s Hits)
White Fire – Angel Olsen (Burn Your Fire For No Witness)
Forgiveness – Bob Mould (Beauty & Ruin)

I managed to get out to see more live music this year too, from the relatively new (Speedy Ortiz) to the somewhat older (Television) but my favourite show was living legend Bob Mould, still as electrifying (and as loud) as when I first saw him in Hüsker Dü back in my student days.

Book-wise, I’ve been reading a lot of history, specifically 18th and 19th century military history, from the Seven Years War to the Franco-Prussian War. I was fairly familiar with the political history of this period already, but it’s always good to remind oneself that outcomes that seem inevitable in retrospect are often contingent on the actions of fallible individuals.

On the fiction front my main project was another attempt at Proust’s In Search of Lost Time – I managed two volumes, which is twice as far as I’ve got in the past, and I’m going to dive back into The Guermantes Way next month. I read a few more contemporary novels too, but nothing terribly memorable.

My favourite book of the year however was a piece of non-fiction from 1984; Janet Malcolm’s In the Freud Archives, a masterful and darkly humorous deconstruction of narcissism in the world of psychoanalysis.

I’m still not going to the cinema much. I seem to have completely fallen out of love with the whole medium; I hardly ever read the movie reviews these days, so I can’t even fake opinions on what’s been showing. I did see one great film this year though; Inside Llewyn Davis by the Coen brothers, who can always be relied upon to spin a slender narrative into something deeper. I found the title character particularly affecting, perhaps because I can identify with a man who can’t quite give up on his dreams, even though he knows that to compromise would make him happier, or at least unhappy in a more bearable way.

So there you have it, my year of culture, such as it was. I have, of course, skirted around the mass of low culture I consumed, in the form of YouTube binges (Russian dashcam videos a particular favourite), listicles, and other mindless internet ephemera, which wasted countless hours of my life that I’m never going to get back. It’s the general trajectory of our information-overload society I guess. I will try to be a little more highbrow next year…

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