To assume makes an ass of you and me. So let’s get on with it. Part 1 here.

Group C – In-ger-lund!

England, United States, Algeria and Slovenia; last prediction 1st England 2nd Slovenia

Listening to today’s Football Weekly – the super-duper special World Cup preview – I can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with the English. Is the malaise in football’s motherland so great that America – America! – can be turned into some great vicious enemy waiting to maul hapless, helpless Albion?  What strange days we live in.

Yes, England looks a bit, uh, French lately. Indifferent against Mexico and fortunate to have two of Japan’s three goals go their way, you would rightly sniff a bit at the prospects of this being England’s Year. But only a bit: England were deadly in the qualifiers. You might smell a whiff of diffidence from their surrender to the Ukraine, but then a little charity is perhaps in order, especially since the squad was so much more unsettled this year than last. (A contagion starting with the Russian roulette going on in goal and abating only at the shiny golden pate of Wayne Rooney.)

But then. That Japan match was just – ugh. Ugh! God. I feel the bad kind of dirty just thinking about it. England’s best chance was a penalty. Which Frank Lampard missed.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. We recall that they’re facing the same USA side that took a single point in 2006 and blew the 2007 Copa America. Their qualification run was basically identical this time around and the Confederations Cup, while an inspiring moment for a team of lesser lights, mattered rather less to Spain and Brazil, who seemed as though they simply couldn’t be bothered to lose. 3-1 against Australia is no mean feat – but big losses to the indifferent Czechs and the Dutch (minus Van Persie) are highly unencouraging.

See?

But that’s not how I really know the USA is in trouble. You know how? All this big tough bluster about giving England a rough time and psyching out Wayne Rooney when they can’t even muster the best widow’s peak. Like Jay DeMerit is Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney’s just going to oblige them an hysterical red card  or gift some horrible passing error in a fit of pique. I think they’ve been basing their team strategy on the Nike commercial.

Told you so.

Of  course Algeria are a horror show and will not foul themselves to a single point. (Though I’ll tip them for worst group stage disciplinary record – take that Uruguay!) Slovenia, however, still tug at my soul. Their friendly results are encouraging but sparse – only three since last September, two wins and a loss (to England). However in terms of finding it where it counts Slovenia are up there, tossing out the top three seeded teams in their qualifying group and an excellent Russian side in the playoffs. Like I said before: it’s the fussballgeist.

Admittedly their group was easy-ish. But besides Mexico, was the USA’s any more challenge?

Hmm. Perhaps cynicism towards your home nation is an Anglophone thing.

England wins all three. Their first match will result in less a defeat than a rout of the United States. Slovenia comes through, but on only four or five points.

Group D – Sitzkrieg

Germany, Australia, Ghana and Serbia; last prediction 1st Germany 2nd Australia

The months have not been terribly kind to Germany. They’ve lost Michael Ballack to a needless meaningless injury (Arsene Wenger will hopefully feel some sick pleasure that the pendulum swings both ways) and ex-coach Franz Beckenbauer is using it as an excuse to say they won’t contend. Balls. (Balls-ack? Can I get a har har?) Ballack was good, a lynchpin, but Germany are not a team so inspired by a single player. His loss doesn’t rule them out the way Rooney’s would England or Ronaldo’s Portugal. It’s the difference between an A and A- team.

But maybe they don’t sweep the group. All of the teams they face are notionally quite strong; Serbia and Australia actually so. Ghana has a lot to offer in FIFA World Cup but they were bad at the Africa Cup of Nations, atrocious against the Netherlands and will see none of Michael Essien, who was a best a toy flashlight in the midst of a black hole.

Australia impressed in 2006, qualified effortlessly in the more difficult Asian Confederation and their last several friendlies have been positive. (Especially after forcing a 0-0 draw with the Dutch.) Star midfielder Tim Cahill is an injury doubt but you’d argue this still leaves them better off than others. (Germany, Ghana…)  I noticed Serbia got some buzz as a dark horse team; this is right, if for no other reason than that they’re on par with Australia (and the USA) but get nothing like the coverage. Reservations about their shaky form lately weren’t helped by a slightly hysterical 4-3 result against Cameroon.

Though neither were they after Australia’s 3-1 loss to the USA…

Germany will top the group, but may give up a draw. Australia with Cahill is 54-46 to come second; without 52-48. See what I did there? I used numbers to seem sciency.

Group E – Stale Danish and doubled-over Dutch

The Netherlands, Cameroon, Denmark, Japan; last prediction 1st Netherlands 2nd Denmark

I have to admit the subtitle’s a bit forced. After I spent a solid 15 minutes on it. Yeah.

The Dutch have continued a strong run of form after a perfect qualifying run, but… I don’t know. I watched them against Ghana and it was probably the most jittery big victory I’ve seen. They seemed tentative and slightly distracted and only very late did they expose the soft underbelly of Ghana’s misery and crap goaltending. For a great team, they weren’t very great – and they’ll be down the truly excellent Arjen Robben in the opener against Denmark. If they’re lucky.

The Danes, however, have fared far worse. Their key men both up front and in back, Nicklas Bendtner and Simon Kjaer, are on the knife-edge for desperately-needed inclusion against the Dutch. Then just today the coach/namesake of Olsen’s Gang took to his bed with a fever. In South African winter. You can’t make this shit up, can you? Bendtner and Kjaer have at least returned to full training, but with all three fit Denmark dropped three of the last four friendlies. (Taking it easy to avoid injuries?) Bendtner in particular is a blessing, since Olsen brought only three strikers to the tournament, preferring to keep his options open in a variety of supporting roles.

Cameroon are fully fit and somehow even more pathetic. Samuel Eto’o threatened to quit because Roger Milla wouldn’t be his friend (dude, cold) and the rest of the team aren’t much to write home about. Even Japan has rather more depth. Cameroon haven’t won a match since the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations and I’m not sure their 0-0 draw against Georgia qualifies as a result. Or their 1-1 against Italy, come to that.

As for Japan – I can’t even. Read this instead. Too bad they’ll go as their fan contributor knows his stuff and is far less crap than I.

The absence of Robben probably won’t noticeably hinder the Dutch this early. They’ll come first. The Danes, luckier than good of late, to slide in second. If Cameroon are lucky they’ll make a good third.

Alia iacta est!

Unwisely a reputable newspaper saw fit to air two hundred daft words by me on the subject of this year’s Danish national team. In it I nail my colors to the mast for a Danish appearance in the quarterfinals – at the expense of Italy, at that! Only later did I remember that the last time I did this I said Italy wouldn’t even win the group, which would leave the Paraguayans – minus Salvador Cabañas, who’s busy recovering from an epic headshot – less dramatically feeding my Danish dream.

So in the interest of posting these irreconcilable opinions straight down the memory hole – and with the newfound results of dozens of friendlies/bizarre group job interviews – here are my new Officially Approved Opinions.

Group A… or should I say Group Uhhhhhhhhhnnn

South Africa, France, Mexico, Uruguay; last prediction 1st Mexico 2nd France

I would hand it over, except they've actually stopped paying me

With hindsight, this was not a terribly comfortable prediction.

Make no mistake, France have been terrible – too terrible even for my prediction. Their last match was a shocking 1-0 loss to China (who aren’t good); in 2010 they lost to Spain, drew Tunisia and narrowly bested Costa Rica. Except against Spain it was formulaic as a soap opera: lots of possession, lots of shots and little to show for it. All this against teams they should have totally outclassed. Raymond Domenech responded by saying he was pleased with their progress. And then deciding to keep Alou Diarra, the midfielder who was recently diagnosed with a blood disorder. And then a French minister complained about the lavishness of the team’s lodgings. If they have any good players they’re surely about to fall to an attack of dengue fever. You wonder if the French kind of wish they weren’t going at all.

By contrast South Africa have been a revelation, routing Guatemala, beating my own Danes (*gulp*) and turning in several creditable performances elsewhere. Not bad for Steven Pienaar and the “guys he found at the bus stop,” I think I called them. Their experience playing together is a major advantage versus “better” sides – most of the 23 play locally and they’ve packed 10 friendlies into 2010, getting a result from every one. Uruguay have performed well but in very few recent matches (and carry a whiff of brutality, apparently) while Mexico are on a creditable run: losing narrowly to the Dutch and controversally to the English but beating Italy strongly.

The question is this: could Le Snooze finish fourth? On recent evidence, yes. Domenech still hasn’t settled a formation and in the China game they just seemed indifferent. If anyone impressed (Gourcoff? So much for that new attacking formation), they’re probably about to fall to an attack of colitis or something. By contrast the hosts – and tournament minnows – are desperate to impress and the two Latin sides are capable. The favored French seem well-placed to blow the luckiest draw ever.

Prediction: South Africa and Mexico neck and neck at the top. But this group could feature four teams on four points each. An unexpected group of death?

Group  B – The head of Maradona

Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece; last prediction 1st Argentina 2nd South Korea

Happier times

WHY do they insist on calling South Korea “Korea Republic”? They’re both republics. Difference is one is in the South and the other has no food. It’s ridiculous.

South Korea have continued to dazzle me – the finest friendly I’ve seen in the run up to the World Cup was their meeting with Spain, ending in a late 1-0 win to the favorites after ninety minutes of exciting, attacking, classy play. I don’t know much about the team besides that, with the notable exception of Manchester United attacker Park Ji-Sung, most play or have played in the native K-League and so have had ample opportunity to get adjusted to playing as a unit. (Also they have a terrible chant.) It showed against Spain.

Along with the rest of Africa (save absent Egypt) Nigeria have been dire. Greece are no better. Both could be shut out. The big question is whether Argentina sinks or soars; excluding Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso brought gasps from the world media but nary a peep within the country, per Joel Richards in Football Weekly. That Diego Maradona is unstable is already beyond doubt; whether he is crazy like a fox or mad as a March hare will become clear in the first game against South Korea, but even a falling-apart Argentina would be favored to go through.

Though I don’t like it, Maradona’s crazy like a fox. Not impossible for South Korea to force a draw but Argentina should top the group with the South Koreans coming second.

7:15 – Alarm goes off. Lie on sofa-cum-bed-cum-home while contemplating calling out of work with bad hangover or plague. Used both excuses this month. Get up.

7:25 – Shower. Sit under hot water while ruminating on the emergence of the white-collar wage slave as a new underclass. Brush teeth in the shower in an attempt to shave valuable seconds off morning routine.

7:40 – Out of shower too late. Scour room for correct black belt. Upon failure put on brown belt and wear glasses with unfashionably thin black rims in an attempt to make up for it. Curse my choice of lightly-stained shirt and third-wear pants out of single twitching eye.

7:43 – Miss L2 bus as I exit building.

7:45 – Stare at bus schedule pensively while deciding if the additional $.95 to take the metro is worth getting to work on time. Do this until the next bus in fact arrives. Congratulate myself on being so decisive.

8:30 – Work starts. Just now changing buses at Lafayette Square. Think bitchy comments about political elites on issues of the day I don’t understand. (Oil spill, financial services reform, Armenian genocide etc.) Hope no one sits next to me on the X2.

8:40 – Stew all the way through Chinatown about crushed hopes.

9:00 – Arrive 30 minutes late. Check e-mail, Facebook, news.

9:30 – Check work e-mail. Examine paperwork for jobsites I didn’t know existed.

9:32 – Close work e-mail.

9:40 – Leave to get coffee and bacon egg and cheese croissant.

10:10 – Return with coffee and bacon egg and cheese croissant. Uncap coffee and blow on it. Try to save portions of croissant to go with coffee. Fail.

10:35 – Take impudent phone call from person interested in free labor. Engage in second bitter anti-capitalist mindrant while explaining that twelve hour days, while economically desirable, contravene guidelines and goals of program, law, Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

11:00 – Tab between Facebook, gmail and YouTube as I stare into the distance. Imagine that I look very thoughtful, penetrating and majestic. Fantasize about leading potential future dictatorship with accompanying fashionable clothing paid for by other people. (Masses recently released from capitalist oppression?) Wonder if all Communist regimes must have the same color red. Prefer burnt orange. Unsure of the symbolism of burnt orange. Research.

11:40 – Begin processing paperwork from yesterday.

11:42 – Someone trips over dangerous extension cord hooking my computer up to inconveniently distant electrical outlet as the outlet under my desk continues to be mysteriously non-vital. (T+ 3 months, 1 week, 2 business days.) Dangerous extension cord finally breaks and is rendered unusable.

11:44 – Complain to superiors about dangerous extension cord and continuing outlet injustice.

11:50 – Accuse co-worker of stealing back-up extension cord. Co-worker uncomprehending and incredulous. Coded passive-aggressive conversation about missing cord, general job performance, life and family history. Resolve to satisfaction of neither.

12:00 – Look for new extension cord.

12:04 – Grow frustrated and steal extension cord from unoccupied computer.

12:24 – Unoccupied computer apparently not so unoccupied. Convince myself that I am a more important part of the organization. Play dumb.

12:30 – Restart paperwork.

12:35 – All paperwork done improperly. Return to original senders with questions. Confident this will be the last I hear of it.

1:00 – Seethe over Michael Lynche being voted off American Idol.

1:05 – Co-worker calls with work question. Spend 30 seconds on this. Spend subsequent conversation on injustice of Michael Lynche expulsion. Expound theory of ethnogeographic voting patterns preferring contestants from the rural Midwest and South living in economically depressed and racially homogenous areas. Complain about my hometown’s lack of spirit. (Think better re. economic depression and racial homogeneity.)

1:20 – Corrected paperwork returns. Horrified.

1:40 – Relief as corrected paperwork evinces further errors. Return to sender.

1:47 – Someone has come into the office and begins to sing in a suggestive fashion. Co-workers are applauding. Subsequently they begin a heated discussion about the taxation of prostitutes.

1:55 – Angry participant misdirected to my desk as a result of colleagues’ sex worker summit. She is seduced by obsequious apologies and officious civil-servanty manner into thinking the mistake was hers.

2:10 – Another call. Mother. Witness and reflect mutual anger about Michael Lynche. Offer unqualified legal opinions about defaulted mortgage.

2:43 – Get mother off the phone in time for kickoff of major soccer match.

3:03 – French team highly disappointing. Begin sorting backlog of other paperwork.

3:05 – Papercut requires immediate emergency medical attention.

3:10 – Convalesce. Write a blog post as part of healing.

3:13 – Abandon blog post. Begin desultory Gchat conversation with infrequently-seen friend. Conversation fails as weather, job and future plans occupies barely five minutes including typing time and friend does not watch American Idol. Fail to muster passion for philosophy, international relations and all other topics.

3:30 – Go for a walk.

4:00 – Missed three goals and a red card.

4:10 – Angry phone call about site visit. Say calm, reassuring things to complainant while I scribble increasingly vile profanities on my notepad. Caller placated by the time I reach the lower intestine.

4:30 – Frantic e-mail from superior regarding statistics for which no one has the necessary information. Write 300 words explaining this in lieu of “No.”

4:50 – Concerned about increasing backlog of work, initiate time and motion study of my working day. Determine that most productivity lost is a result of repetitive attempts to placate angry callers. Resolve to cease answering phone.

4:52 – Decide I am a servant of the people and time and motion studies are in any event part of the edifice of capitalist oppression leading to escalating white collar wage slavery.

5:15 – Inadvertantly stay past closing time, missing parade of punctually-departing employees past my desk. Angry at continued exploitation by bureaucratic capitalist superstructure, resolve to come in late tomorrow as a retaliatory gesture. Congratulate myself for being fearless standard-bearer of the revolutionary vanguard.

5:16 – Leave.

Am I actually still writing this?  Bah. Part 1 here. 2 here.

The night before the day after the night of

Speaking of elections-to-come.

British polling organizations rely on national polls of voting intentions taken via various means, much like national polls in the US. A few sources (Electoral Calculus and the UK Polling Report, principally) are available to translate that result into what really matters, namely seats in parliament. In that sense, individual parliamentary races function much like state-by-state campaigns in a presidential election. In Britain results are individually more or less important for the personalities they return, but the end result is the same: hit the magic number and win. The polls, therefore, are less an effort to see who will “win” – or what the British people are thinking – than to determine the difference between this time and last time. That’s the swing.

When there are two parties really competing for government and a third with some areas of strong localized support and steady but diffuse strength everywhere else, this is generally a useful exercise.  But when all three unexpectedly start to poll the same nationally, the system goes haywire. This is especially true when you add regional differentiations, unevenly distributed turnout and the targeting of specific seats, at which LibDems and minor parties have grown adept. In the last election, which began to lay bare these predictive deficiencies, Electoral Calculus mis-predicted 74 seats, 52 of which resulted in an erroneous prediction. It suggested a Labour majority of 130 rather than the 66 which was actualized. The swing between Labour and the LibDems in key marginals was 6.7%: but Labour lost Cambridge on a 15% swing and Manchester Withington on 18.4%. (And these were not the only ones.) Strange, unexplained results in what was otherwise a relatively-average election. What happens when the same factors are at play but with all three parties even nationally? What happens when a relatively small number of three-cornered contests become four-sided or five-sided with independents and nationalists? What happens when talk of a majority is totally anachronistic? (And what happens when it isn’t?)

If you ask me, the models are crap, the polls no longer tell us anything – in marginal seats or nationally – and nobody will have much of a pot to piss in on election night. I think that fact in itself is meaningful. We’ll get there yet.  (I’m not doing a fucking Part IV – if I do I’ll have to write about Toynbee tiles or something weird.)

Watch out, Radioactive Man!

Yes, that was a reference to a show nobody watches anymore. But more on Gordon Brown later. (Snap.)

On BBC America and similarly British themed broadcasts and bootlegged internet streams (which, if you know of one, I’d be obliged if you’d share) the election broadcast will start shortly before 5pm Eastern. British polls close nationally at 10, and shortly thereafter the BBC’s Election Night broadcast will report its exit poll, which will predict not merely share of the vote but seat totals, swings and a potential majority. Or not, as the case may be. For the next few hours after that, not much will happen – as counting proceeds only a few seats will declare their result before 12:00. This declaration consists of a returning officer, having concluded the final count, reading out the results for each candidate and then announcing who has been elected, after which each reads a speech. It’s wonderfully dramatic and avoids the disgusting back-and-forth we have in this country, but it’s trustworthy because the seats are too small to rig convincingly. (Though they do try.)

Here’s an example from 1997: (The creepy man whose picture opens the video is actually Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the new seat of York Outer. Ouch. Fortunately he won’t win.)

For the past several elections, the first place to declare was Sunderland South, a urban riding in the North that was held from the darkest days of the 80s by Labour’s Chris Mullin. Mullin is not running again and the Sunderland has been broken up from two seats to three: Sunderland Central, Houghton and Sunderland West and Washington and Sunderland West. One of these three will be the first to declare, and chances are none of the three will take longer than three hours. If any of them fall it would open the curtain on a catastrophe for Labour – the most marginal, Central, needs a 13% swing to the Conservatives. It’s not likely, but they will be useful barometers for the rest of the night – pay especially attention to the Liberal Democrat vote, as they’re targeting heavily Labour areas for upsets.

Some of the other early seats, in a change of pace, may be from Northern Ireland. In the past these were only of regional interest – Northern Irish seats are dominated by local parties on either side of the sectarian divide. However the Ulster Unionists, the old ruling class of the northern provinces, saved just one seat in 2005 against the onslaught of the hardline Democratic Unionists and in an effort to stave off electoral oblivion announced a merger with the Conservatives. The result is the first credible candidacy of a national party there since the Sunningdale Agreement. It’s not clear whether the new Ulster Conservatives and Unionists, as they now are, will save the single seat they presently hold much less gain. Only two seats fall within a 5% swing, but David Cameron has been working Northern Ireland hard and the sympathies of the Democratic Unionists are also with him. (Though Brown won’t be counted out, in the entirely unreliable words of the Daily Mail. How this is a “bribe” but Cameron’s dangling of government jobs something more principled is beyond me.)

At that point some more results will start to pour in. Tis’ much to go over 650. But here’s a few things – both seats and trends – to watch:

Celtic Kittens: Scotland and to a lesser extent Wales have been largely closed to the Tories since 1997, when they were eviscerated in both, and since Labour have come to power they have prospered from vast new investment. The conservatives regained one seat in Scotland – with difficulty – in 2001, which they held – with difficulty – in 2005. The Scottish Nationalists saw their UK MPs increase to six and in 2007 won one seat more than Labour and formed a minority government in the Scottish Parliament. The LibDems did well, taking nearly 20% of Scottish seats, twice their UK average. In Wales Labour suffered slightly to the Conservatives and LibDems and lost a seat on a huge swing to an independent candidate, Peter Law. Shortly after he died of cancer – his election agent, Dai Davies, now holds the seat and is standing again.

Scotland has been one of Labour’s bright spots during the campaign – successive surges by the other three parties have been seen off, the luster is off the Nationalists and there’s surely real sympathy for Gordon Brown. It’s now a reasonable question whether Labour might actually gain seats. (At least one seat, lost in a by-election in 2008, is likely to return to the Labour fold, though this won’t count as a “gain” since Labour was the winner at the last regular election.) If Labour suffers but only slightly, as some polls have indicated, only the lowest of the low-hanging fruit is likely to fall. The Tories will continue to have a single Scottish MP.

Wales is tougher: it has a stronger native Conservative tradition, especially in rural areas, and fewer Nationalists and Liberals to act as a buffer. (Unlike elsewhere, the Liberal vote moved almost wholesale to Labour in the 20s and 30s and has infrequently looked back.) A referendum, held the same day, on increased powers for the Welsh Assembly are likely to focus the attention of locals on devolution of powers, an early and influential Labour reform. The Conservatives look likely to gain, but only because their vote before was so low. The Nationalists may as well. If the Conservatives gain fewer than six seats Labour’s had a good night. The reverse if they take more than eight. I think Labour will take back the independent seat.

Minor parties: Only a few seats are held by independents. (Excluding several MPs who’ve been thrown out of their parties; most of these are standing down.) We’ve already mentioned Blaenau Gwent. Bethnal Green and Bow in central London was taken by George Galloway in 2005 in protest at his expulsion from Labour (prompting this interview, which single-handedly proved to my 17 year-old mind why British elections are better – by the way, yes, their MP is Scottish). Wyre Forest fell in 2001 when Labour cuts threatened to close a local hospital.

I think all three are likely to fall. In the 2006 by-election in Blaenau Gwent, shortly after Peter Law’s death, the official Labor candidate came close to regaining the seat. By-elections are traditionally opportunities for an easy protest vote on a low turnout. So it was, but that Labour came so close says that the drama surrounding the 2005 result has faded greatly. With no real opposition from the other three Welsh parties, this looks a Labour gain. Same with Bethnal Green, where George Galloway has abandoned the seat to a lesser light. It should be an even easier take. Wyre Forest is a Conservative seat, but Dr Richard Taylor benefitted from both the old Liberals and the LibDems standing aside in his favor. This year both will feature, and even in 2005 the Conservatives gained 10% in a strong area. The presence of UK Independence Party (anti-Europe) and right-wing British National candidates may help or hurt him; but either way, he’s unlikely to survive.

Independents are unlikely to disappear from the Commons, however. In Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, the spokewoman for the Green Party, has an excellent opportunity to gain their first seat at the expense of Labour. They’ll need a swing of only 7% in their favor, assuming the Conservative vote holds steady; but since 2005 this seat is a 4-way marginal between the three main parties and the Greens, and promises a cliffhanger of a result.

In Luton South, Esther Rantzen, who you would charitably describe as a television personality, is standing as a general anti-everything candidate and may win herself or let in the Tory or LibDem at Labour’s expense, while Labour may gain at Castle Point where expelled Conservative MP Bob Spink chose to fight on as an independent. If he takes a third of the old Tory vote, Labour takes it.

Each of these results may seem small-scale: but if no party wins a majority, especially if they’re only one or two a way, they take on new and specific importance.

How do the LibDems actually do?: One or two polls this week have shown the third party dropping back to their pre-debate numbers; others have them ahead of Labour. All polls agree the Tories will take first, but the relative success or failure of the Liberal Democrats in England will make the difference. Indeed the sole reason the Tories are not gaining a majority is because expected gains from the LibDems aren’t realizing.

They’ll gain seats in the Southwest, an area of strength for hundreds of years. But their strength here limits opportunities; there just aren’t many seats to take. Watch West Dorset, the seat of the Tory former Shadow Chancellor and a frequent LibDem target: if it falls, the Tories will be having a very bad night. The Southeast is ultrasafe for the Tories, but the areas in between – South of London and East of Portsmouth – are the key LibDem-Conservative battleground. Until recently the LibDems were danger of heavy losses. They may still be. Guildford is an ultramarginal that changed hands in the last two elections. Watch who wins and by how much for clues to the surrounding areas.

North of London, especially along the East of England, both Tories and LibDems will be fighting to exploit a drop in the Labour vote. The LibDems are at a disadvantage in that they didn’t expect to be targeting so many potential gains, but their candidates are generally solid, decent local people who can speak well in an electorate furious with the political class. A few specific areas stand out. The LibDems heavily targeted the city of Newcastle’s seats last time and narrowly failed to seize them, as they did with several key seats in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. They will need to make gains from Labour in such Northern urban and suburban seats to realize a total above 100.

And now, my final thought

It’s like writing a goddamn novel. I have to be in Congress Heights in the morning.

At the wire polls have swung the Conservatives’ way. If borne out, they may be in range of a majority.

I don’t think they will be. In fact, I think – against all reason – that Labour may yet have a good night. After the swings and the BBC gimmicks and the snotty interviews and the bad computer animation, and after all of the crap Gordon Brown has received, I think he’ll be right in his prediction that the people who haven’t quite decided – and they may be 40% – will come back.

The British press hate Gordon Brown. They hate him when he’s decisive and they hate him more when he waffles. They hate him for what he does and for what he doesn’t do – they hate not what he does with power but that he has it at all. They hate him because he’s ugly and half-blind and worst of all Scottish, the bad aftertaste of Tony Blair and the offensive reminder of the favoritism granted the regions for their loyal support of Labour. They hate him for good reasons and more often for bad ones. A lot of people agree with them.

But not all. Just like not all agreed that John Major was shit just because he came after Thatcher. In 1992 a “Shy Tory” factor kept him in power – disastrously, it turned out. Voting Conservative may not have been cool, but a lot of people did, to borrow Goldwater’s phrase, know in their hearts that he was right. I think the contrast Brown draws with Cameron and Clegg is precisely the sort that would encourage this sentiment – and this week in the campaign seemed to be the first time Brown himself believed it.

For a man who may not have a job tomorrow, he’s bounding around the country with something like a spring in his step. Maybe that’s the key difference: he can risk being effusive rather than dour precisely because nobody expects anything from him anymore. At the least they’ll be able to say he went out with something like grace. At the most…

Well.  At the most I’ll need a Part IV.

The equally-gratuitous Part I.

Trench foot-in-mouth

Last week Gordon Brown called a voter who strode up and gave him what-for about immigration from Eastern Europe “bigoted.” After forgetting to take out his microphone. Whether it counts for anything or not is totally unclear – in 2001 the famously surly deputy prime minister hit a guy and Labour got a huge majority. But it’s not for nothing that this is the first real coverage Brown has individually got in weeks. This fracas sadly encapsulates Labour’s war so far – they haven’t been able to catch a break, nobody’s listening and nobody thinks you matter.

(As a personal note, I agree with Gordon Brown. Really I like him better the more everybody else hates him. But more on that in Part III.)

It is a strange sort of revenge for Labour’s resistance to proportional representation that Gordon Brown is learning how it feels to be the leader of “the other party.” Though Labour’s numbers have held relatively steady and the resurgent Liberal Democrats are beginning to drop back, the race between two fresh, dynamic, not-grizzled leaders looks better when you don’t stick Mr Shrek MP up next to them. Labour, having developed a taste for the blood of its own leaders, is watching large chunks of its support drift away (to apathy and to LibDems – less to Tories) and indications are that the campaign is totally falling apart. Senior party leaders are apparently trying to convince Gordon Brown to stay on as a caretaker in the event of a loss in an attempt to prevent deputy leader Harriet Harman – whose abrasive style and overexact behavior as Women’s Minister earned her the nickname “Harriet Harperson” – from gaining an indomitable foothold.

As the tetchy campaign enters its final week, both Labour and Tories rounded on Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on a promise of amnesty for illegal immigrants and extremely ill-advised declarations about his intentions should the Liberal Democrats hold the balance of power in Parliament. These have allowed Brown and Labour, with some success, to declare that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is by proxy one for Cameron – and certainly even Brown-hating Labourites will find irritating his attempts to dictate their choice of leader. David Cameron’s Conservatives have too late realized the danger of the LibDem surge and are only now turning their guns on Nick Clegg after generic attacks on a hung parliament fell flat. A strong performance in the final Leader’s Debate has helped Cameron – no poll since 20 April has showed a vote-winner other than the Conservatives – but the chances it will save him from electoral ambiguity are fading. The election’s had its big bang moment: the focus now shifts from the general campaign to contests in 650 individual seats.

The election-to-come

The quote at the top is from a commentator on election night 1997 when Labour won 418 seats and exterminated half of John Major’s Cabinet.

Derrida (in a random and slightly gratuitous philosophy reference that I’m probably going to fuck up) liked to talk about the “democracy-to-come”: how democracy doesn’t constitute anything intrinsically but is a perpetual work-in-progress, moving and shaping with the passage of time and the change of mores as people and elites assert control in new ways. It’s not going anywhere, as such: there’s no pre-arranged destination, no inevitable moment of completion and triumph. Democracy is a political system that meanders down the road, leaning forward, nervously eyeing its surroundings. If so, in Britain this week democracy is hurtling down an expressway. But where to?

The Liberal Democrat surge has guaranteed that this will be the key question in any new Parliament: not who will govern but how British government will be. If the Conservatives don’t win a majority the Liberal Democrats will hold the balance of power. It is a decades-long party policy that they cannot participate in a regime that does not pursue electoral reform, and for the first time they will be large and decisive enough to enforce that policy. Hungry for power though they may be after a hundred years out of government, they are not likely to break this commitment.

Labour will lose. Nothing can stop that now. But their ability to survive – not as a party of government but as a party at all – now hangs in the balance of this vote. If Labour does indeed drop into third and 100 seats or more fall, a massacre of Labour’s leading lights could follow. It is, ironically, like an asteroid is coming towards the Labour party. What they need in the event of a loss is enough diversity so that the gene pool of potential leaders and their supporting personalities remains robust enough for them to quickly rebound. Two factors are working against this.

The first is that low turnout, high profile Labour safe seats, like David Miliband’s South Shields, are precisely the ones likely to give up a larger-than-average swing should the election go horribly wrong. Labour’s strongholds in the North are the most likely to suffer in such a situation, and given independent interventions and a large swing towards one challenging party could overtop the superficially large majorities held by several Labour ministers like brothers Miliband or the family BallsCooper. (Teehee – Balls.)

Labour may also suffer because of Brown’s reliance on peers in government, who are unelected but can still occupy most government positions. Three peers sit in Cabinet positions which can be held by MPs – two as Secretaries of State and one, Lord Mandelson, as Gordon Brown’s right-hand. A larger number are junior ministers at the highest profile departments – 3 of 9 at Business, excluding the Lord Mandelson; 2 of 5 at Defence; 3 of  5 at the Foreign Office. The competence of these officers aside, these are all positions which are not being used to blood MPs who will be the beating breast of a Labour opposition (and the core of future Labour leadership teams). With the attrition likely if a severe loss comes on Thursday and the potential loss of many junior ministers who sit as MPs, including the most politically sensitive in marginal seats, a rump Labour party would likely fall into the hands of its safest and most hardline members, possibly under an unexpected and inexperienced leader. The Conservatives know how this feels. But they will not share Labour’s pain.

Any hung parliament is unlikely to last long, especially if it results in any kind of broad electoral reform – a new poll will have to follow any alteration in the governing system. If so – and if Labour is unlikely to be a party to the decisions that shape such a reform – their concern should not now be this Thursday. It should be election night November 2010, or May 2011, or whenever this Parliament teeters to its conclusion. By then Tories and LibDems alike will truly have dipped their hands in the blood and they will suffer the burden of having no time for any proposed remedies to take effect (which is why Cameron is so desperate for a majority government – he’ll need his full five years, at least). Labour could profit from this, especially if any Conservative-LibDem regime tears itself apart over reform.

So this was supposed to be 2 parts. w/e. I have a lot of opinions.

Many of you have come up to me – in the street, in bars, during my wheatgrass colonic – and asked, “Peter, I have to know – what do you think of the British election?”  Normally I don’t like to comment on politics, as my friends know. Religion and sex acts with clowns are spicier conversation. But – oh, what the Hell.

Beforehand: since the six of you who read this are almost entirely American, you might ask, “Why should I care?” If “because I tell you to” is an insufficient answer, consider: the United Kingom is one of America’s ten largest trading partners and London stands shoulder-to-shoulder with New York as a global financial center; next to the United States, Britain is one of the four or five countries whose fiscal decisions reverberate through the world; and this will be the first time a democratic government under a market capitalist regime will be judged on the economic crash and its response to it. (Remember Obama was elected before ARRA and TARP really hit home.) With a skeptical free-market Conservative government challenging an interventionist Labour, this election is arguably a dry run for November here. You might not be surprised to see some of the same themes bleed in: it wouldn’t be the first time.

Baby got back… ground

Yeah, not inspired.

Gordon Brown has been the Prime Minister since summer 2007. He was originally Chancellor – keeper of the purse strings and holder (slash-frequent squeezer) of the Prime Ministerial testicles. That he became Chancellor and Tony Blair party leader and shoo-in for premier despite the latter being nominally the junior partner is said to be down to a mickey slipped him at a Italian restaurant called Granita, which is a singularly inappropriate place to decide the fate of a country. (At least one without a romance language). Despite getting unprecedented control over government policy for someone not actually responsible for making it, Brown was not a happy camper. He got no happier when – if the deal is to be believed – Tony Blair stayed on past and then well past the agreed time. Gordon Brown learned the hard way that though the banker’s offer may be the smart move, you could still be giving up the $1,000,000 briefcase. (649,875 GBP.)

Brown eventually hounded Blair out a decade after he took office after Blair was forced to deputize him to save the last election campaign in 2005. Brown thought the popularity he’d built up as a surly, hard-charging, hard-spending Chancellor would continue when he ascended the throne himself – and for a time it did. Then came the election that wasn’t. To be fair I don’t think it was really Brown’s fault – but speculation about a snap poll in late 2007 got out of control and he did nothing to stop it. In Britain the date of the election is not fixed, so to dangle the prospect of going to the people and then pull back at the last moment is a most dangerous electoral cocktease.

He’s been sleeping on the couch ever since. But the swarthy Scot is lucky that there has been no grand adversary to match the depth of his own party’s despair. No Margaret Thatcher, no Tony Blair, indeed no Ronald Reagan waits in the wings, ready to cruise onstage as the growling saturnine Scot departs. David Cameron’s Conservatives have failed to convince a skeptical public that he’s not Margaret Thatcher, whom the entire country appears to have retroactively decided was an LOL they turned into a great big OMG. Until recently, the third-party Liberal Democrats – alternatively left-liberal, free-market libertarian and a little bit country – were set to draw 20% of the electorate no matter what happened, ensuring that any winner would form a government on a very low vote total. (I am going to link relatedly to myself again. I have absolutely no idea where I found the time to write all this garbage. Unemployment? I kind of miss unemployment.) Short version is that because Parliament’s elected like the US Congress, if the Speaker of the House ran the fucker, a party which gets 20% of a 3-sided vote everywhere will not win anywhere, even if a proportional result would give them a far bigger seat at the table. In 2005 the Liberals won 62 seats on 22.1% of the vote while a numerically proportional result would have seen them take 142. Most of these were in Southwest England, Scotland, and a few scattered urban seats (most often with heavy college populations or young, affluent outer cities).

Another 35-40 seats, occupied by the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, single-issue independents, vanity MPs and the inevitable Irish constitute a wedge which in years past counted for no one. Practically, then, to form a government one party has to win 326 seats out of only 550-575, while the remaining 70-100 aren’t going to be in play at all. This in a country in which government by more than one party is basically unthinkable. (At least, as unthinkable as German rearmament.)

The only thing missing was Jim Lehrer… and “that one

For the first time in British political history, the cancer of American-style politics spread to the concept of a televised leader’s debate. They do it in Australia, they do it in Canada – it was only a matter of time. It was refreshing to me that starting it with the benefit of all our experience didn’t mean it was any better; while the Brits themselves seemed to be frothing at the mouth over this particular to-do, the parts I watched were just as much a pointless robotic clusterfuck as any presidential clash. It was rather like watching three middle-aged men play Trivial Pursuit, except all the questions were People & Places and nobody ever got a wedge. (“I talked to Wanda, in Bournemouth…”)

But the result was nonetheless remarkable: the Liberal Democrats surged from distant third to close second. They’ve always consistently struggled less with their message than getting anyone to hear it, despite a series of seasoned, well-spoken parliamentarian-leaders and broadly popular liberal policies. The election of Nick Clegg as their leader in 2007 looked for a long while like a major error – a 40 year-old former European MP only elected to Parliament two years before, Clegg never seemed very comfortable in the House Commons and was regularly put aside by a flagging Gordon Brown and his own seasoned deputy, shadow Chancellor Vince Cable. For two years Clegg polled behind the other two leaders and his own predecessors (who had the added disadvantage of also being Scots). He was always shit.

And yet neither Labour,  digging in against a televised leader’s debate, nor the Conservatives clamoring for it, realized that they were in fact drinking a nice big draught of hemlock. From here it looks like Clegg’s secret weapon has turned out to be that he’s the most American of the three – he’s good-looking and easy with the camera, exudes congeniality and above all else he’s seen to be calm, clear and level-headed. If the little worm bastard is any indication (sadly, they have that too), people don’t particularly like conflict in these debates – because, unlike Prime Minister’s Questions, viewers have the impression of being spoken to directly rather than watching others debate. Nobody likes to be yelled at, which is why Brown and Cameron have stumbled when they’ve tried to mix it up – they’re schooled and skilled in parliamentary swordplay. You wonder if even Tony Blair, the talk show Mr. Cool, would have been as well-suited to this format as Clegg.

He’s also a novelty. After three years people seem kind of tired of Brown and Cameron – the drawbacks of 24-hour saturation media is that a lot of people are seeing a lot more of you than they really ever wanted. Having had very little opportunity to speak to a mass audience, Clegg and the LibDems not only appears fresh and their ideas more interesting and innovative but, most importantly, they haven’t yet had time to annoy the entire world. He gets the sort of freshness of the Obama effect without the sixteen months of campaigning that slowly wore it away.

The proof is in the pudding. After the first debate Nick Clegg was unanimously thought to have won, in most cases by margins in double digits. Brown and Cameron alike polled about equally-poor second places. The LibDems’ numbers floated around 20% and hadn’t poked above their 2005 result in many months – after the debate they have not dropped below 26% and regularly top 30. For the first time in – awhile? Ever? – the third party came top in the polls. New numbers haven’t come out since the second debate, but while instant reaction registered a closer result, it still gave a Clegg win. At a stroke, the question became not whether the Conservatives could gain a majority but who would even be the largest party.

I’ll probably publish a part two when I feel like it. Or not.

Lady Gaga: 1337 h4X0r

20 April 2010

We all know that Lady Gaga is talented, bizarre and beloved by homosexuals and my mother alike. But did you know that she was also a total video game nerd?

Check this from her new video with Beyonce, “Telephone”:

ph33r my paint sk1llz.

Astute video game connoisseurs will recognize tiberium as the sinister evil-inducing credit-creating seriously creepy element that drives the Command and Conquer franchise. My friend Rich thinks it was probably inserted by a rogue nerd, which is possible despite the arty faux-Tarantino feel of the video. But I prefer to think Lady Gaga, the Chad Ochocinco of music, enjoys a chance to sit at home and get her h4x on – and wants us all to know it.

UPDATE: From fat friend Rich:

meta-cyanide is a Dune reference. it was totally a rogue geek. she’s our age and dune is before our time

Maybe – but he knows it, so why shouldn’t Lady Gaga? I get the sense she might have had a lot of time to watch TV in high school.

1. A sure sense of intellectual and moral purpose.

2. The lifelong pursuit of education in unexpected and innovative ways.

3. Unparalleled cultural relevance in every field of endeavor.

Adult illiteracy.

Courtesy of the denizens of 12th and Franklin.

Now, I know all about social media.  I’m on the Facebook, I read the Twitter, I blog, and under my bed is the President’s nuclear football which I came by via – well, never you mind. The point is I’m a pretty tech saavy guy. I am also as poor as America is gullible, so today I’m devoting my considerable(y) mental powers to the discovery of new and exciting ways you can make the surge in social media work for you. Why, you ask? To be honest, entrepreneurship sounds like a lot of work.  I’d rather print out this time-stamped blog post and after a good five years come after you in the courts and give your clock a hardcore cleaning.

Twittergrams!

Because I’m very relevant and hip I saw Valentine’s Day the second weekend in March. And let me tell you, I loved it. It was like The Devil Wears Prada crossed with The Shining. But the entire film was very old-fashioned. Everybody was getting each other flowers and going out to dinner and having phone sex. I mean, phone sex? 1995 called. It wants its $19.95 back.

So I figured I’d create the new phone sex. However several exhaustive(ing) searches of the internet lead me to believe that somebody else already has. Again and again and again, in fact. Perhaps everything that can be invented already has – but then I thought, “Hey, there are things that make money that don’t involve sex.” Like pizza. Mostly.

So I turned my attention to amore instead, and asked the question twitterpated young men and women have for millennia: how do I monetize love? But of course, the answer was in the question. It’s easy peasy titty squeazy.

People are always sending their beloveds little notes. Cards, candygrams, valentines. But why express yourself when you can e-xpress yourself???? That’s where my twittergrams come in. Nothing says “I love you” like an unrelated third party saying “I love you,” and the strict requirement for 140 characters or less means that you get all of the romance with none of the hand-wringing over saying the perfect thing. There simply isn’t room!

You can identify yourself (unless you’re Greek – the names simply use up too much of the available space) or you can be an anonymous suitor routing your love through an intermediary like a drug lord engaged in a complex international money laundering scheme. And believe you me, nothing says eligible bachelor quite like money laundering. Add to that a variety of messages, from a classic “I love you!” to a spastic “LOVE YOU!” to the internet-age “luv u” to custom messages with a little more personal flair. What woman could resist a man who whispers, “I wanna be with you so much we cycle together”? What man can stand the temptress who coos, “I love you like Jerry Jones loves himself”?

Baby’s first Facebook picture!

I have a very fat friend called Rich Myslinski. He’s like the Bill Belichick of up-and-coming free-market conservatism. (You may notice I’m using a good deal of football metaphors today. It’s because the kids are all into the footy. Do they call it that in this country?)

Now my fat friend Rich has a family, as many people do, and as recently as fifteen years ago this came to include a sister. The other day his mother wondered aloud to him whether she should be allowed to sign up for a Facebook account. Rich, whose heart is as big and distended as the rest of him, told them that yes, a Facebook account would do her no harm. But he was taken aback by her next question: should she take his sister to have her picture taken for it?

Why, yes. Yes she should.

You know working parents this day in age have so much to worry about. Kids grow up so fast, and they’re making choices every day that go far beyond what children faced in the simpler times of their youth. Decisions they make at age 16 can effect the rest of their lives and nowhere is that more true than on social media. So often, though, our little angels just don’t realize this. Do you want this to be what your child shows society?

Maybe

But the culturally sensitive people of the modern day will realize that child or not, a Facebook photo is a really specific creature, requiring just the right mix of verve, playfulness and reserve to paint a delicate picture of the complex milieux of your life. Your profile pictures need to show just enough individuality to communicate your key life-message without Facebook deleting your account for suspected pedophilia. Do you think this photo strikes that delicate balance?

Not unless you're Ellen DeGeneres

That’s where my professional Facebook photography firm can help. Our trained professionals know exactly what to do if you want a picture that says “A student,” “bored housewife,” “slightly-creepy high school teacher” or “GILF.” Only people from the internet generation can truly understand what you need to give your social networking profile that extra bit of oomph, which is why we employ no one but under-25s with absolutely no training in portrait photography. I can make your Facebook shout “Friend me!”, your YouTube cry “Subscribe!” or your Twitter squeal “I’ve got twats!” Because real class doesn’t come from the inside. It can only be bought. Just ask our celebrity endorsement:

QUILF Rania of Jordan

A dating site for armchair political extremists

Is that an IED in your pocket?

Two uses of the internet predate all others: clandestine communications between the undesirable and clandestine communications between the unmarriageable.  Why is it that we’ve still not combined the two? Thanks to the Tea Party and Pennsylvania’s own Jihad Jane, the venting your shrill frustration with the political process in a consequence-free environment has never been easier – or hotter!

Sure, you could meet that special someone at a rally of the urban proletariat or a secret meeting of the local Klan, but with the economy knee-deep in recession many of us just don’t have the time for the kind of rabble-rousing that makes both the Earth and your knees shake.  NutNet can not only ensure that your love life doesn’t suffer the same isolation that comes with the righteous conviction that the government is controlled by a Papist plot. It can also enhance the strength and durability of your revolutionary vanguard by creating cadres of like-minded cells distributed all over the country and the world! And with the increased potential for future little black blockers, this is one specter of Marx that everyone can get in on.

Good luck, go-getting Yankee capitalists! My lawyers and I wait with bated breath and bared fangs.