Timothy Explains The Electoral College

Good evening students. It is I Professor Timothy the Talking Cat of Bortsworth Polytechnic’s Faculty of Politics and Squirrel Hunting (open Wednesdays and Thursdays 12 pm to 3 pm except public holidays and when it is raining).

Many people ask me “I didn’t think the UK had polytechnics any more?” but what they should be asking me is “what is the best system for choosing your government?” That is an excellent question, thank you so much for asking it.

The best system of government is a REPUBLIC. Now what is a republic? A republic is not a democracy and that is how it is defined. A democracy is the worst kind of system of government as numerous example attest. Once you understand this then it is clear that a republic is the system of government you want. This was all worked out by the Ancient Greeks many years ago but despite their wisdom, Ancient Greece fell when it joined the European Union and everybody had to speak German or French or some weird mutant language that is like a hybrid of the worst bits of both languages (can you imagine that!)

Once you have established your republic you must pick your leader. It is imperative that you have a wise and noble leader. Who should you pick? Me of course! Ha, ha, I jest — there’s no way I’d want to run your crappy country. No, no, you’ll need to pick a second rate leader from your own country.

Picking them is hard. You can’t just ask everybody “who should be leader” because that would be democracy and as we already established we want a republic not a democracy. The amazing answer is to set up an electoral college.

The dictionary defines “college” as:

a university where you can study for an undergraduate degree

A Dictionary

However, an electoral college is a university where you study to pick the leader of your republic. Like any university it has a library and over-priced places to eat which the students avoid because they can’t afford to eat on campus but that’s OK because all their lectures are online now and they can eat toast at home. In America, the electoral college is in a big tree all covered in ivy and so probably doesn’t have a lot of room for over-priced places to eat, maybe only a gift shop selling t-shirts with the university name on them.

How does this work? Every state picks people to go to the special university. It doesn’t matter how they pick them and they don’t need to be super-smart because they only have to go to one lecture and they don’t even have to take notes. Once they get to the university they have to climb up the ivy so that they can sit on what are called “the three branches of government”. A big Irish guy called Bill O’Rights then asks them who should run the government. It’s a tough final exam for your first day at university! Luckily that’s the only question on the test.

Everybody has a guess at who is going to be the new leader. Interestingly it is never anybody at the college because of what they call “separation of powers”. If you guess right then you graduate. That’s bad news because you then owe the government lots of money in student debt, so everybody tries to guess wrong. Bill O’Rights tallies up the guesses and the person with the most guesses is named ‘The POTUS with MOST-UST”. Everybody then swears at him (it’s always a him because that’s a rule for republics).

This time hallowed process ensures that your republic never falls into the dangers of democracy. Also you get a t-shirt and a mug from the gift shop.

Star Trek Discovery: People of Earth (S3E3)

[Some spoilers about a character]

As Discovery matured it got into a rhythm of its own kind of wacky space-opera versus (or complimentary with) more The Next Generation style episodes. I’m sure there are examples of each from various directors but the first category I associate with Olatunde Osunsanmi and who better to represent the second than Jonathan “Will Riker” Frakes.

True to form we get an episode that is so TNG that we get the return of the Trill and a new Wesley Crusher-like character. Yet this is Discovery, so this is still TNG but updated and with its own spin.

The twist is that the planet that gets the TNG treatment (where a whole planet of people gets boiled down to one character who basically makes planet wide policy on the spot having been shown the error of their ways by the stern wisdom of the charismatic Starfleet captain) is Earth. Yes, the episode has all the flaws of the standard Picard solution of getting two antagonistic space-groups to realise what they have in common and work together rather than fighting a war. It’s too quick, too simplistic and utterly unlike any actual real world dispute. However, making the snooty up-itself planet Earth…that is actually quite a neat twist. How intentional that was, I don’t know but it adds a spin to a corny scenario that has a nice subversive quality to it and acts as a mild critique of all those “why don’t you two just put aside your differences and get along” episodes from the original series onward.

Meanwhile, we get another new character: Adira, a hyper-intelligent teenager from future Earth who is part of the Earth defence boarding party. Played by Blu del Barrio they aren’t nearly as annoying as Wesley Crusher and their big secret [spoiler] is that they are actually a human with a Trill-symbiont [1]. del Barrio is non-binary and that is a neat casting choice for a class of Trek characters that have had an interesting play on questions of identity.

Still…I can’t help feeling that Discovery already has more characters than it is properly utilising. The under-used bridge crew do get some collective moments (greeting Michael, visiting a great big tree) but aside from a brief hesitation, we don’t get an update about whatever is going on with Detmer.

Even so, the episode uses the emotions of the crew well. Even though Michael has only been separated from them by two episodes, I found the initial reunion quite moving. I’m also really glad that Saru is now wholly and unambiguously the captain of the Discovery. It’s an ill fated role but it is an outcome that retrospectively makes the previous seasons better. The Discovery was a dysfunctional ship with a dysfunctional crew many of whom were individually capable. Events have changed them and the ship and Saru’s captaincy emphasises that as a story arc, even if some of that arc was unintentional.

Cora’s review is here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/10/31/star-trek-discovery-pays-a-visit-to-the-people-of-the-earth/

[1] I assume that will engender some arguments about how the whole Trill thing was supposed to work but in a nod to continuity, Saru had to learn about the Trill’s symbiotic thing courtesy of the sphere data. Riker/Frakes of course was briefly a host for a Trill-symbiont in the TNG episode where the species was introduced.

Some buildings that look like Daleks

Apparently the US right wing media is trying to stir up irrational fear of New Zealand as a way of inspiring people to vote for Donald Trump — I guess on the grounds that he is very much the antithesis of Jacinda Ardern (who is articulate, popular and competent). The prospect of Trump supporters actively avoiding New Zealand (not that they can travel there anyway currently) is not a major worry for the Kiwis and they may regarded it as an active benefit. So is it worth pointing out that the NZ parliament building has a distinct resemblance to a Dalek and surely that tells you a lot about that nation? Very scary and maybe Trump supporters might want to avoid the whole southern hemisphere?

But what other buildings look like Daleks and how might a blogger fill out a lazy post just with pictures of buildings that vaguely look like Daleks? After meticulous research typing in “buildinggs that lok like Daleks”(sic) into Google in the hope of finding somebody else’s list to plagiarise, I present to you this listicle entitled “Five other buildings that look a bit like Daleks”. Also I get to test the Wordpess-Makes-Twitter-Thread Feature…

The Gherkin

Pisa Baptistrey

The Nott Memorial, Union College

Selfridges Building, Birmingham

Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg

I’ve only seen three of those in person. If you’ve seen all six you get six Davros-points. Suggestions welcome.

Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: OCT27-28

Those drapes really bring the room together.

Every Wednesday morning (Au/NZ)/Tuesday evening (other places), Straw Puppy presents a post for people to provide their startling insights, general commentary and pleas of ‘please let this horror show be over soon’ about the United States Presidential Election.

Also, you don’t HAVE to talk about the election. There are no rules here only the arbitrary whims of a cat’s dream of a dog.

More sensibly the current FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls is here https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/?ex_cid=story-twitter

This recent 538 post is quite interesting as well https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-joe-biden-toast-if-he-loses-pennsylvania/

Susan’s Salon: 2020 October 25/26

Oooh spooky

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Sydney time which is still Sunday in most countries) . It’s fine to be sad, worried, angry or happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another 😇

ALSO! For US Presidential election discussion, gripes, fears and hopes, Wednesday’s “Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls” is dedicated to election talk.

I watched Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

And so closes my adventure, although I shall endeavour a post later summarising my experience.

To close this sequence of movies that are nominally about the illegal street racing culture of young urban Americans, let me say three words: Bionic Idris Elba. Words that you can utter in dark times, like a hobbit shouting at the darkness: “A Elbereth Githoniel!” You are not exactly sure what they mean or how that sequence of words came about but here they are.

There is an un-policed and porous border between techno-thrillers and science-fiction, that sits happily alongside the superhero genre. James Bond can fly into space, Iron Man can fight alien invaders. Genre distinctions can be tricky at times but here we can probably boil the distinction down to just how fictional the tech involved might be. 2Fast2Furious had some kind of magical EMP weapon used to stop cars that goes almost unremarked upon but I wouldn’t call it science-fiction, I’d just call it lazy writing. However, Bionic Idris Elba is sitting safely across the border into (at the very least) superhero territory, if not overt science fiction.

Let me explain. The antagonist of this film is Idris Elba but he is bionic. He has to be bionic because he must fight Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham simultaneously and keep beating them. Now, Idris Elba could be cast as somebody who fights just one of them but not somebody who could fight both of them at the same time, hence: Bionic Idris Elba.

If you’ve been following this film series you will note that the above makes a lot of narrative and casting sense. It makes far more sense than the previous ~16 hours of film. Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw is absolutely distinct from its ancestors in this regard. We have a conventional plot than move from scene to scene, much like any action-comedy-thriller. The core cast is smaller (Hobbs, Shaw, Shaw’s secret agent sister, and Bionic Idris Elba) and their roles more clearly defined. The plot is still nonsense but it is far more linear than a typical Fast & Furious film.

There are cars but no car races. There is a nice reference to the Italian Job (Statham was in the remake). Ryan Reynolds cameos as a CIA handler for Hobbs, and does Ryan Reynolds things. Things get blown up. Helen Mirren shows up again. The chemistry between Hobbs and Shaw is exactly as advertised and fun is had by all.

The most Fast & Furious thing about the film is when Hobbs discover that a key macguffin has been broken in an action scene in the Ukraine. With time pressing and the fate of the world at stake, Hobbs naturally makes the only choice you can make when a complicated high-tech gizmo (created by a highly funded transhumanist apocalyptic cult) is broken — you fly to Samoa to get your car-mechanic brother to fix it. An axiom of the Fast & Furious films is that car mechanics have a set of easily transferred technical skills making it easy for them to move between fixing cars to fixing anything that has blinking lights.

On Samoa, Hobbs reunites with his family and heritage and via an actually fairly neat bit of plot logic, his extended family get to fight the baddies using traditional weapons. Spoilers: the world is saved and finally Bionic Idris Elba is defeated.

Fun. Yes, you can watch this without knowing anything about the previous films — indeed that may even help.

Star Trek Discovery: Far From Home (S3E2)

Another solid and visually gorgeous episode jumps past last week’s episode to see the fate of the rest of crew of the Discovery and the ship itself.

Plummeting out of the time-travel wormhole, Discovery is out of control and heading directly towards a weird semi-exploded planet. Thanks to the skilful efforts of Keyla Detmer, they manage to crash land the ship on a glacier. Unfortunately the ship is now in a bad state of disrepair and the not everything is repairable.

The story flips here into two parts. On-board the Discovery we mainly follow Reno (Tig Notaro) and Stamet’s attempts to get the power back on despite being both injured. There’s not a lot of time spent with the rest of the crew but the episode still does a much better job of making the ship feel like it has a crew and that they are all an important part of the ship. There also appears to be something wrong with Detmer in the aftermath of her crash landing.

Meanwhile Saru and Tilly (and unbeknownst to them, Georgiou) attempt to make contact with a mining colony on the planet, so they can repair a vital component of the communications system. There they learn that the people are essentially being held hostage by the “courier” to the planet and his gang of heavies. Zaher controls supplies into the colony and is a brutal and sadistic man. Yet, at least one of the miners sets great store in his faith that the Federation will return one day to save them all…

The colony sections of the story are not shy about using the tropes of Westerns. Tilly and Saru’s first proper encounter with the colonist starts with them walking through the bat-wing style doors of a saloon only to be met with a bevy of hand guns. There is a new marshal in town and it’s the same as the old marshal except this time it is Saru.

Of course, the original series even had them Enterprise crew end up in a literal Western and fight the gun-fight at the OK Corral (Spectre of the Gun) and at the time Westerns where still a significant tv-show genre. The ‘frontier’ myths are baked into the shows opening dialogue and yet, despite this when I think of science-fiction shows that try to blend in tropes from Westerns, they tend to stand in contrast with the original Star Trek. I suspect, there are layers of cultural reflection in play. Just as the post-war heyday of the Western was a nostalgic re-imagining of 19th century America, modern audiences recognise not 1950s Westerns so much as the nostalgic and/or subversive takes on them since that point.[1]

We are only two episodes in but it certainly appears that the theme of season 3 is a galaxy of lawless bullies versus the lawful-good remnant of the Federation. For contrast though, we still has former Mirror-universe Emperor Georgiou to offer as a violent contrast. I’m reminded of the TNG episode ‘The Most Toys‘ where Data is confronted with a man who is both banal and irredeemably evil. The conflict is shorter and more underplayed here with Saru/Tilly & Zaher than Data versus Fajo. The arrival of Georgiou short circuits the dilemma but does allow Saru to more clearly contrast his approach with Georgiou’s methods.

This and the previous episode where directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi. He’s been an executive producer on Discovery from the beginning I think but when I look at the list of the episodes he has directed, it has a lot of the episodes I enjoyed:

They are also all episode that (a) I enjoyed but (b) were less-Trekky in style. There are plenty of examples were Discovery pulled off a good episode that was also good in a way that felt like previous iterations of the franchise (often with Jonathon Frakes directing). I think Osunsanmi maybe the person who is finding a place for Discovery to be that manages to be its own thing and neither the clumsy ‘our Klingons are different’ version nor the ‘tonight some classic Trek references to warm your cockles’ version.

Cora’s review is here http://corabuhlert.com/2020/10/24/star-trek-discovery-arrives-far-from-home/ and as always is worth checking out.

[1] I say that but I see from Wikipedia that the venerable TV show Gunsmoke ran until 1974. Bonanza ran until 1973 — so there was only five years between Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright and Lorne Greene as Commander Adama. So I’m probably talking bollocks here. Maybe it is a Gen X thing to imagine vast gulfs of cultural time between the 1950s and the late 70s when it’s a no different numerical as the span from 2018 to 1998 (or, horror of horrors, 2000 and 2020 –where the hell did all the time go?)

[2] So when I originally looked up the title of last week’s episode it was ‘The Hope That is You: Part 1’ but now it is just ‘That Hope is You’ — or maybe I just imagined all that. Serves me right for skipping between universes.

Currently Reading: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Oh this book is very much full of the kind of stuff I like. Stuck in a huge labyrinth like house full of statues and with floors in intermittently flooded by the ocean, the narrator believes they are exploring the known universe. The reader can tell they are probably somebody trapped in a magical place an were originally from contemporary London but ‘Piranesi’ is under the impression they have always lived in the halls of the vast house.

Slow, thoughtful and full of evocative details.