Category: Stuff

This arrived in the mail :)



How does the Booker compare?

I thought I would follow up this post about the BBC Short Story contest with a look at another literary competition. As Wikipedia has an extensive page on the finalists and winners of the Booker Prize, it seemed like a good choice.

Unless I’ve miscounted or misclassified* there are two years with an all-male shortlist (1976 and 1991) and no years with an all-female shortlist. The split has generally favoured men but what is interesting is that the proportions haven’t changed much.

The scattergram shows the running total of finalists split by gender. Overall the rate hasn’t changed much (if anything it went down in the 1990s and then recovered)


The proportion of female to male finalists is 38% to 62%. The proportion of female to male winners is 34% to 66%. So unlike the BBC Short Story prize, there isn’t much difference between the shortlist and winners as a proportion. Of course, the Booker Prize is not a blind selection process at any stage.

*[A with the last post, I’ve used only a binary classification and used names and the use of gendered pronouns in articles to classify authors.]


Loved Books: The Mathematical Experience by Philip J. Davis & Reuben Hersh

I was given this book as a Christmas present as a teenager but I had picked it out in a bookshop. It was part of a bunch of books I was given that included Anarchism by George Woodcock (since lost) and the Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland (which I still have somewhere).

The difference with this book was that maths was a new and surprising interest. I had never liked mathematics and for much of my schooling arithmetic had baffled me. However, past a certain age algebra in particular just clicked. I hadn’t noticed at first but as the work became more advanced I found that work was not getting proportionally harder, as in I was still finding it difficult but in the way I’d found times tables difficult except now we were doing work that everybody found hard.

So I started taking an interest in mathematics as mathematics and this book arrived when I needed it. Stepping into it I fell into a new rabbit hole – the sociology and philosophy of mathematics.

How to impeach a justice of the US Supreme Court

The short answer is that I’ve no idea but as the subject seemed germane to current events in the USA, I went on a deep dive into Wikipedia so that I’d feel less ignorant.

The less short answer is that you do it the same way you impeach a US President. The House of Representatives votes on articles of impeachment. Having done that the subject of those articles is technically “impeached” but then the Senate has to vote on the charges. If they support the charges then you are out on your ear and if they don’t then you can carry on as if nothing happened (but technically you were still impeached). [ ]

As a function of Congress its not well used. No US President has been removed from office by impeachment. Only two Presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton and both were acquitted by the Senate. Impeachment proceedings had begun against Richard Nixon but he resigned before the House voted on them but it is fair to say that the threat of impeachment helped remove Tricky Dicky from office.

Impeachment has been used to remove federal officials from office, including a number of federal judges. However, impeachment has not been used to remove a justice of the Supreme Court.

Exactly one Supreme Court Justice has been impeached by the House: Samuel Chase in 1804 but he was acquitted by the Senate. Two others have had significant attempts made to impeach them:

  • William O Douglas who was a fascinating fellow but maybe also a bit of an asshole to his staff (which wasn’t why people tried to impeach him). Multiple attempts were made to impeach him but each one failed.
  • Abe Fortas nearly became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court but mired in financial scandals his appointment was fillibusted and later, after further scandal and fearing impeachment, he resigned from the Supreme Court.

As precedents go, this is slim pickings. The norm seems to avoid impeachment of Supreme Court justices perhaps because of fears of the constitutional conflict that would arise (the legislature intervening in the courts) even though the constitutional power of Congress to do so is fairly clear.

While the Supreme Court has few examples, there are more cases when it comes to Federal Judges. Like appointees to the Supreme Court, a Federal Judge can continue indefinitely once appointed. Wikipedia has a handy list:

It’s not a huge number given the time span but more recent examples are interesting.

And that is basically all that I read on the topic.

Saint Petersburg

(To the tune of Istanbul)

Saint Petersburg was Old Lenin-grad,
Now it’s Saint Petersburg not Old Lenin-grad
Been decades since it was Old Lenin-grad
Now it’s a tourist site for a sunlit night

Every Cam in Old Lenin-Grad,
Is in Saint Petersburg not Old Lenin-grad
So if he has a blog in Old-Lenin-grad
He’ll be posting in Saint Petersburg

Even Pet-ro-grad was once Saint Petersburg
They had to change it, historians say
Because the Tsar thought it was less German that way!

So take me back to Old Lenin-grad
But I’ve never been to Old Lenin-grad?
It’s been decades since it was Old Lenin-grad
Why did Old-Lenin-grad get this fuss?
That’s nobody’s business but the Rus

Saint Petersburg

(Repeat more rapidly)

Surprise! Iron Fist Season 2 is…good?

Iron Fist was the weird sibling of Netflix’s stable of Marvel superhero shows. While the others were gritty, adult dramas centred on New York, Iron Fist was a weird often goofy show that might, on a whim, send the cast off to fight a drunk Australian in China (no, honestly that happened). The casting of the central character, Danny Rand and the basic premise of the character caused both mockery and concern even before the show was released. I didn’t find it as bad as others but it required effort to like it. Danny Rand aka the Immortal Iron Fist had a second outing in the crossover series The Defenders and a cameo in Luke Cage season 2. Both outings were not as weak as the main series but nobody went away thinking “Danny Rand was the best bit of those episodes.”

It is no exaggeration to say expectations for Season 2 were low.

Before I continue, some caveats and a spoiler warning. The warning is that there will be some minor spoilers in the review but mainly for season 1 (and to be honest I’d recommend just reading plot spoilers for season 1 rather than watching it). The caveats are manifold:

  1. If you don’t like the other Marvel Netflix shows then there’s no reason why you’d like Iron Fist 2.
  2. Like most of the other shows (the exception being Jessica Jones) the show rests on a 1970s/80s perspective of New York as a city on the perpetual brink of warfare between criminal gangs centred around ethnic groups. Yes, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are trying to play with 1970s genres in themselves but they carry with them tropes soaked in all kinds of prejudices about race, immigration, crime and social class.
  3. The basic issue of Danny Rand son of a wealthy New York family being the chosen-one style saviour of a Chinese religious order remains. Actually it gets a bit worse as the bad guy for this season is Davos – Danny’s friend-brother-rival for the title of the Iron Fist (played with stoic menace by Sacha Dhawan).

So, if you are already at ‘nope’ for Iron Fist then fair enough.

Having said all that, yes season 2 was actually not just better but arguably one of the best of the Marvel Netflix shows.

The core cast was the same but better deployed. Finn Jones either was getting better direction, a better script or had worked out how to play the character with the same naive earnestness but less annoyingly. He wasn’t always likeable but the character made sense.

Joy and Ward Meachum were given interesting story arcs (Joy’s being a somewhat implausible journey into revenge). Misty Knight was used to good effect as supporting character and a bridge to the Luke Cage series.

The supernatural aspect of the show was still there but dialled down a few notches. Still lots of glowing fists, weird rituals and scrolls in ancient Sanskrit but better balanced within a frame of fighting organised crime in New York.

The smartest move though, was spotting that Colleen Wing was a character who deserved focus. Often operating as the main protagonist in episodes and driving events alongside Danny Rand, Jessica Henwick’s performance was one of the best things about season 1 and season 2 uses her to much better effect.

The basic story template isn’t anything new or particularly novel but it is well executed. Notably, instead of 13 episodes (like Luke Cage), there are only 10 and it makes for a tighter story with less padding. By episode 8 a direction to the story starts becoming clear which is smart both as a narrative and for a show fixing up its fundamental problems.