Thursday, 27 November 2008

Not-even-a-paragraph reviews 3

Tropic Thunder
Generally good fun. Starts weakly, but picks up after ten minutes or so. Irritatingly inconstant pacing and variable level of bleakness, like it doesn't know whether it wants to be a satire or a straight comedy. Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr are great, but Tom Cruise is truly amazing.
7/10

Brick
Brilliant concept flawlessly executed. Film noir set in a high school. Effortlessly tells a complex tale without faltering, and maintains its theme and style throughout. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic (as always), and there's not a poor performance on show. One of the best movies I've ever seen.
10/10

Blood Simple
Slow, brooding story that just gets darker and darker once it gets going. Atmospheric, tense, and with the guts to take things to their necessary conclusions. Excellent.
9/10

RocknRolla
Good, enjoyable romp (and not just compared to Revolver). If you can look past the 'gangster' styling and the occasional dodgy bit of mumbo jumbo, there's some fun to be had. I'd have liked to see more of Toby Kebbell, but the rest of the cast share the spotlight well enough, and the film offers a good number of memorable moments. It's not a classic, but Ritchie has done much worse.
7/10

The Good Shepherd
Tortuously complex at times, and possibly tries to do too much. There's a slight feeling that the overall message might have been obscured by all of the little story threads being explored. Nevertheless, a great thriller that keeps the audience guessing throughout.
7/10

W.
Oddly anticlimactic. Tries to fit too much caricature into what could have been a really deep exploration of motive and power. The relationship between the Bush Jr and Snr is the highlight, and both Josh Brolin and James Cromwell are excellent as the respective characters. Feels a little insubstantial, and is certainly not a clear-cut and damning critique. Meanders along well enough for the most part, but lacks a dynamic central thread, and finishes with the story half told. Perhaps we'll get a better biopic in 10 or 20 years.
5/10

Julia
Interesting and well rounded story focusing very closely on Tilda Swinton's alcoholic title character. Good twisting plot and interesting characters drive the film for most of its length, but having avoided cliché for so long it's a pity that it suffers slightly from a predictable finish. Solid thriller, and well worth a look, though.
8/10

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Linkables 26/11/8

A nice little satirical/political resource-management flash game. Not the deepest, but worth a few minutes of your time.

Ever needed to let someone know just how simple it would have been to search for an answer rather than asking on a forum? This resource is a nice sarcastic response when JFGI won't cut it.

Speaking of Google, here's a list of the words that'll violate a safe search. There's some interesting inclusions and omissions. And a feminist reaction, for good measure.

There's more safe-search discussion towards the end of this article too, which also links to this slightly odd New Yorker article on lewdifying children's stories.

Maps and analysis of UK racial violence and newspaper story coverage.

Philosophical questions from the BBC.

Graffiti causes crime.

Programming jokes and an awesome geeky sci-fi cross-media webcomic joke.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

DVD Review: "Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1"

I picked up the Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1 DVD through a mixture of mild curiosity and having fairly recently enjoyed both Wall-E and the short film which preceded it, Presto. I bought it with the intention of dipping into the collection every so often watching a short film here and there, this being much easier to fit in than watching a full feature film of around two hours in length, seeing as the total running time of all thirteen short films in the collection comes in just short of an hour. What actually happened was that I ended up watching all of the short films, plus the DVD extras, in two sittings, and this was only because I didn't start the first session early enough in the evening to complete the DVD in a single viewing.

The short films presented here aren't just very entertaining; they demonstrate just how vast the technological leaps in computer animation have been since the first short on this DVD, The Adventures Of Andre & Wally B, was made in 1984. The early shorts come across as primitive and possibly underwhelming compared to today's standards of computer wizardry. But considering the earliest shorts were made over twenty years ago, with the earliest in the year of my birth, the achievements represented through these short pieces of film are almost incomprehensible. The advances are huge between one film and the next, showing Pixar's continual lust for bigger and better things.

But the technological side of things isn't all that is demonstrated through this collection. Through each of these short films, it's clear to see that the people behind Pixar and its animations have always had a superb ability to not just make pictures and characters move, but to bring them to life. Through 1986's Luxo Jr. - a short about two desk lamps - it's not difficult to see that the people who made it also had a hand in making millions of people care about a tiny non-speaking cockroach in Wall-E twenty-two years later. From the moment the first lamp begins to bend, you forget that it's a piece of desk furniture and immediately buy into it as a character with a personality. And this is before the second, smaller, "cute" lamp has even appeared.

There were only a couple of shorts that I only liked quite a lot, rather than loved, and that was largely because they were tied into Pixar films that I either didn't particularly care for (The Incredibles) or haven't yet seen (Cars). The special features aren't particularly expansive, but are definitely worthwhile. There are four Luxo Jr. spin-offs that were used in episodes of Sesame Street, and a short documentary on Pixar's history of creating short films, all of which are both entertaining and interesting. They help to round off what is a neat one-disc DVD set, a fascinating and heartwarming collection that I'm sure I will revisit many, many times.
10/10

Monday, 24 November 2008

Training part 2: Coaching.

The companion return leg of my massively productive outward journey was far less smooth than its blog-post-inspiring sibling. Having neglected to check the existence of trains running the reverse route on the day I wished to return home, I was thrust into the sticky arms of the National Express coach service.

The combination of no leg room, a bumpy journey and a headrest made for someone either two inches taller or two inches shorter than me was exactly what I'd expect to get from everyone's second-choice method of long-distance transport. I've always wanted to be one of those people who can easily make conversation with the stranger sitting next to them in these kinds of situations - with the lights off and little chance of sleep, I imagine it would allow the time to pass much more easily. With my particular brand of insecurities and social anxieties, I've never been able to quite pull this off. It generally takes me longer than a single journey to get a comfortable rapport going with a stranger, so unlike those people who can end up with a real bond after a few minutes of conversation, I rarely get past the small talk stage.

On this occasion, I was sitting next to Ana, a Brazilian woman living in Portugal and working in Manchester. Her English wasn't particularly good, and my Portuguese is non-existent, but we manage to get across that she was a cook in a grill-based restaurant serving Mexican, Portuguese and Brazilian food. She likes cooking, and likes it when people enjoy her food. She finds Mexican food boring and too hot ("too piri-piri, too piri-piri") for her, but loves Portuguese food. She explained that no matter how much she showered (which she constantly referred to as "douching"), her hands still smelled of spices, and she was right - the smell of onion and some sort of chilli was ingrained in her skin. She agreed that my hands in turn smelled of nothing at all.

She was travelling to London to stay with a friend of hers, and when she initially instigated conversation with me, it was to ask whether the coach went to "Golden Green", and if not, whether the driver could be persuaded to stop there. I suggested that he wouldn't make an extra stop there, but that she could maybe travel to there by train from Victoria station once we arrived. She did ask the driver a couple of times whether he could stop anywhere other than Victoria, but he was unsurprisingly reluctant.

She said that she found England too cold, and I agreed that it was very a chilly weekend in Manchester. I said I didn't like it when it got too hot, and she laughed at me. She said her hands hurt from the cold, and that she needed a bigger, warmer hat. I tried to explain that I'd bought a new coat that weekend because of the cold, but I don't think she understood.

For large portions of the journey, I tried to sleep, only catching a few moments here and there, while she craned her neck at the motorway signs out of the window, shouted down the phone in Portuguese and occasionally pulled her hat down over her eyes, crossed her hands over her handbag and appeared to sleep for a few minutes, until her phone rang again.

By the time we got to London, the result of her phone conversations was revealed, as her friend had in fact gone to work already, and so was not available to meet her. This meant she now needed to get to Heathrow. From Victoria. At midnight. On a Sunday. As we walked into the station through the bitter cold, she told me about what she was looking forward to: a hot shower ("ver' hot. ver' hot douche. fifty C douche."), a good meal and a good night's sleep ("by this time tomorrow, I be at home in my bed").

We had a look at the boards, and couldn't see any trains heading to Heathrow, so I took her over to the ticket office. No trains to Heathrow, they said, try the underground. We ran down to the underground entrance but the men there said she wouldn't make it to Heathrow by train before the tubes shut down for the night. They suggested she try to get to Paddington and get a train from there, so we ran back upstairs to the front of the station. We wandered over to the taxi rank and I asked a taxi driver how much to Heathrow. £60. "Too much!" she said, aghast. And to Paddington? £12. I tried to explain that she could go to Paddington and then hopefully get a train to Heathrow, and she seemed happy with that.

"Thank you!" she said, "You come to Portugal. You and girlfriend come to Portugal. I help you. You stay with me there." Then she gave me a hug and got into the taxi. I instantly felt guilty that I didn't run to a cashpoint and get out the £60 to get her to Heathrow, rather than subjecting her to another unfamiliar station, and without a guide this time. I really hope she made it to Heathrow, and I really hope she's in Portugal now, enjoying her food and her hot shower and her bed.

Meta-blogging. Meta-living.

In the fifty-three days since I last made an entry on this blog, many things have happened. I've travelled to places in this country that I've never been to before. I've watched plenty of films, some for the first time, others being rewatched. I've celebrated six months of happiness with my girlfriend. I've celebrated being alive for twenty-four years. I've even started writing a blog entry for this very page (it currently sits unfinished, although it's closer to being unstarted). America has chosen a new President in a historic milestone election. Credit has continued to crunch. The fourth series of Lost has been released on DVD. And I've rewatched that too. Three other people have made twenty-two entries on this page. In short, quite a lot of stuff has happened. And whilst I have written the occasional comment on some of those aforementioned entries, I have failed to create a new entry of my own.

Having kept up-to-date with the comings and goings on this page day after day, reading what others have said, I've had good intentions regarding the writing of entries. And yet it has not come to fruition. Days have passed and no new entries. Not for lack of subject matter - there are a great many things that I've filed in the back of my mind under "blog entry material (future)". But that filing cabinet is getting more and more full, and dust is also beginning to gather upon it.

I can feel this entry becoming unfocused, so I'm going to get straight to the point: it's not a lack of desire to write entries here that has hindered my blogging; nor is it having "better things to do" - I have had other things that I have needed to do, I wouldn't necessarily categorise all of them as "better" than writing an entry here. I enjoy writing here and being part of the ramshackle community that comes and goes leaving opinions and musings for others to digest. But since my last entry, I've let "life" get in the way. That sounds awful. Let me clarify.

I'm really enjoying my life at the moment. I'm enjoying being in a relationship. I'm enjoying my job, even though sometimes it feels as though I have to run in order to stand still whilst doing it. There are friends and family that I wish I could see a lot more than I do, but at the same time I'm enjoying having taken the step of moving away from home and having further independence. At the moment, my life feels jam-packed, but in a good way. All of the things that make up my life I'm loving. The downside of that means that I seem to be letting some of the things that seem of lesser magnitude fall to the wayside.

Yes, I've watched several films. But I still have DVDs and TV series waiting to be watched, that have been waiting for some time, and that I only want to watch when I'm certain I will be able to sit down and watch them properly. I've been playing around with music less. Only recently have I begun making a new mix CD for my friends, something that I used to do more regularly. And I've not been writing here. Probably the easiest one to remedy when I think about it - yes, a blog entry can take a while to write if it's of a fair length or a topic that deserves time spent on about it; but an entry can be written in small parts, saved, edited and finally published after being visited and revisited several times.

I'm not entirely sure where this entry is now headed. Basically, this blog is important to me, even if at the moment it's taken a back seat to other things. I'm aware that I've done that, and that will change, simply because there are plenty of things that I want to write here.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Training

Part of the reason I convinced myself two months ago to buy a laptop which I clearly didn't need was in order to take advantage of long and otherwise unproductive journeys. I keep complaining that I have no time to blog, so what about harnessing the untold hours spent sitting alone, staring out of the window while being shuttled to and fro by the nation's public transport system? It's difficult to blog on a bus, it has to be said. Journeys tend not to be long enough for effective introspection, and people tend to look at you strangely, or read over your shoulder and laugh, or read over your shoulder and point out when you've spelled embarrassing words wrong. Words like gonorrhoea, or cunnilingus. So not the bus, then. And similarly not on the plane, given my tendency to holiday either in the cold, wet confines of this country, or even, perhaps preferably, simply in my own home and more specifically my own bed. Little to no airline travel involved there, then, and thus no excuse for an extravagant laptop purchase.

But, I thought to myself, what about all those long train journeys to far flung parts of this windy isle? I remembered as a child being entertained by my parents for the three-and-a-half hour slog up to Newcastle: playing chess with my dad; doing (easy) crosswords or reading comics; eating sandwiches out of a bag; cherishing the one tube of sweets that had to last the whole journey. And, speaking of sweets, anyone who has had a sibling must surely have had those unspoken competitions when treats were limited and ruthlessly equal. One tube of sweets would have to last the whole trip, and so clearly there was some self-rationing involved. But there was more to it than that, there was strategy. With a sibling eating their own tube of sweets, it became a game of cat and mouse. You simply couldn't be the first to finish. Were you to make this schoolboy error, and was your companion in consumption to notice, you would, for the remainder of the journey, be subjected to the pure enjoyment experienced by He Who Saved His Sweets. Little moans of pleasure, audible mastication, and the slowest possible consumption of each delicacy, while staring innocently across the table at you, driving home the message that He Had Something You Didn't, a true achievement in the tightly regulated world of similarly-aged siblings. The complex tactics developed for this sugary underground warfare might need a post of their own, but suffice it to say that they were not limited to pre-dividing sweets into tiny fragments, sorting and resorting them to buy time, and even pretending to eat them, whilst palming them away into a lint-filled pocket for future enjoyment.

Hm. Where was I? Ah: train journeys. Yes. So, I thought to myself, train journeys as an adult will be just as long and uninteresting. A laptop will provide the perfect solution to this, giving me a creative outlet. With no distractions in the immediate vicinity, and no internet connection, I'll only have to contend with reading, listening to music and staring into space. Surely this will lead to the occasional flow of creative juices, and the associated gob of blog-worthy phlegm. And so, armed with this suitably flimsy argument, I went out and bought a little Eee PC. Not a powerful machine by any standards, but pretty, portable, and certainly novel enough to stave off boredom for the occasional train journey. If, of course, such journeys were undertaken. For, of course, in my haste to convince myself that a shiny new piece of hardware was necessary, I had conveniently managed to forget the miniscule amount of time I actually spend on trains. And so the first three months of the laptop's existence were marked by its presence on top of my chest of drawers. Pristine, but rarely touched. Attractive, but unused. Enticing but redundant.

After that first barren period, however, fate, as she sometimes does, gave me an opportunity to take more regular train journeys, and I leapt at the opportunity by dusting off my little technological wonder and preparing for the creative explosion that would come with so much uninterrupted keyboard time. I also bought a little external hard drive to ensure that any actual keyboard time would in fact be spent watching films and downloaded TV shows, thereby at a single stroke, effectively nullifying any potential productivity (a skill I honed during my time at university).

And so we come to the present day, and the reason for such an uncharacteristically long and flowery post. I am, as you may have guessed, writing on a train, having spurned the distractions of films or television shows through somehow losing my external hard drive. And I have to say, it's everything I had hoped for. This was going to be a relatively simple post, but the lack of distraction has turned it into an overly personal, irrelevant ramble, filled with inappropriately extravagant language, pretentious airs, and wandering asides. And I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Were I to be writing at home, I'd have got up to get a drink, or turned on something to watch, or listen to, or started to tidy my room, or browse facebook, or checked my email, but here there is none of that. I can finally reach the true horrifying lows of my unfettered blogging potential. And don't think you'll get off lightly, I'm only 50 minutes into a three hour journey, here, so there's plenty more to come.

A final aside: Ever since I saw the BBC series "The Last Train" as a child, (in which the various strangers in a train carriage have to work together in a harsh and unforgiving environment after a meteor wipes out civilisation while they were in a tunnel), I have found myself imaging how I would fare with my companions on any given journey, should this, or something similarly far-fetched, arise. I have to say I'm feeling reasonably confident with the current situation. Should the worst happen, I plan to stay close to the huge black guy sitting across the aisle from me. Should it come down to a difference of opinions in a post-apocalyptic landscape, always try to side with the person who could rip someone's head clean off. The teenager to my left, playing with the music on his mobile, seems fairly annoying, but is probably wily. He'd learn some harsh life lessons, but come out a better person. The old man at the table in front of me would help provide wisdom to the team, and the slightly annoying middle-aged guy, who expressed displeasure at his reserved seat and went to find another, could come along, but would probably get eaten by jackals at some point, to keep the rest of us mindful of our own mortality. Should such a situation turn out less like a seven-part BBC drama, an unlikely but possible outcome, I'm fairly sure we'd all just wander around for a few days, run out of food and starve to death. I don't think I'll share this bleak outlook with my fellow passengers, however. They might find it a little odd, and there's nothing worse than finding yourself in a carriage with some weirdo rambling on about post-apocalyptic landscapes and laptops. Assuming it's out loud at least. I'm sure I'm quite bearable when I'm simply typing it.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Linkables 19/11/8

Vital advice for cat owners! And for pogonophobes (I particularly like reason 2)...

"Minority report" style computer interfaces.

Good advice on how to read statistical news reports, focusing on recent talk of national debt.

Recipe database, for the kitcheny amongst you.

What should you watch next (includes West Wing spoilers)? For advice on new series to try out, take a look at the comment thread.

A video taken from inside the head of a November the fifth Guy. Weird and kind of moving. (via the f-word).

Saturday, 15 November 2008

A little over the top gear?

I just started watching the best of top gear (series 10) on iPlayer and noticed there was some pixelation which had nothing to do with the video quality over James May's face. Now putting 2 and 2 together, one of the 2's being that Jeremy Clarkson was holding a pipe and the other being that james may appeared to have his had near his face (assuming he wasn't chewing on it, which understandably would be censored) I deduced that the reason for the pixelation was that he was seen to be "smoking" (sarcastic quote marks) the pipe he was holding, which was neither lit nor smoking in any form.

Does this seem like a little over zealous to anyone else? I'm not really a supporter of smoking but still to censor someone holding a pipe in their mouth seems a little odd. Reaction to recent events or just plain silliness?

Friday, 14 November 2008

QFT?

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but the BBC love their quotation marks in article titles on the website, and it still annoys me on a fairly regular basis. I may be wrong, but it seems to me like quotation marks around a word or phrase when used in a news article should be direct quotes, and should be relevant to the article. So these two recent examples annoyed me:

'Secret' Obama code name revealed. Given that the first line of the story describes the code names as "not-so-secret", and the only time the word secret is used in a direct quote in the article is when the secret service says of the code names that: "There's nothing top secret about them", why in the headline of the article is the word secret used in quotes. No one seems to be describing the codes as secret except for the journalist writing the article. While it could be argued that the article isn't a serious piece of news, and is more human interest than anything else, I worry that quotation marks are able to be used without source and in a way that opposes the information in the rest of the article.

Shannon accused 'is a bit creepy'. This article about the trial of those accused of the kidnap of Shannon Matthews is a little bit more worrying. In the first line of the article we have the line:

The niece of the man accused of kidnapping Shannon Matthews said her uncle was a fantasist and a "bit creepy".

But later in the article we have the actual courtroom exchange:

Ms Meehan was asked by Frances Oldham, QC for Ms Matthews, if she agreed with the description that her uncle was "a loner, a strange character, a bit creepy and a fantasist".

She replied: "Yes".

So, no only is the first line misleading, since the niece did not actually say the things that are being claimed, and merely agreed with them, but the quoted text in the headline is again not verifiable as a direct quote, since nowhere in the article does anybody use the phrase 'is a bit creepy'.

Again, maybe I'm nitpicking here, but I would expect news reports in general, and those from the BBC in particular to be a little more careful about the quotations they use. If a quote is used in a headline (which may be the only information seen by large numbers of readers), it seems as though that quote should be reliably sourced and reproduced within the article. There are many more examples of this, such as this article about Osama bin Ladin's whereabouts, in which the headline quote is not attributed or reproduced. Without knowing more about the rules that journalists are under, clearly I can't say much of substance, but to me this kind of quotation practice seems at best disingenuous and at worst outright misleading.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Linkables 12/11/8

What would you do with a ham sandwich, and what does that say about your politics?

The kind of public health statistics at Google's fingertips.

Really interesting and powerful short story. Potentially weird and disturbing too.

The story of one man's investigation into guerilla advertising.

For fans of The Day Today, On The Hour (which I was not at all aware of) is seemingly back in podcast form. Hit and miss, but often worth the listen, especially since each one is so short.

A cool little dice game, with the advantage that it looks just as simple to play with real dice as it is in the flash version.

And as Prop. 8 protesters get possibly unexpected support, here are some excellent and interesting vote breakdowns on the issue, by county.

This nearly made me cry...

...but it's awesome.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Poem of the Week #3

Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby's Scheme). I died in hell -
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I'm there;
"In proud and glorious memory" ... that's my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he's never guessed.
I came home on leave: and then went west ...
What greater glory could a man desire?

by Siegfried Sassoon.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Linkables 7/11/8

Election-related links: Vote value by state, electoral cartograms and a pictorial presidential history.

A flickr pool: "Messages for Obama", as set up by Meg. (including one from me)

Collected customer stupidity at Not Always Right.

Charlie Brooker's usual calm and reasoned reaction to the Ross/Brand affair.

Inflation in Zimbabwe in pictures.

How real gamers play World of Warcraft.

Ugly souvenirs! Humorous roadsigns!

Enjoy your weekends :)

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

44th

It seemed like too much to hope for almost two years ago when he stood up on a cold February day in Illinois and announced that he was running for president. It seemed like something from fiction - something that the world, with all of its pain and hatred and cynicism would not allow to happen.

He can give a good speech, we said, but where's his experience? This isn't a local senate race - how can a Democrat honestly take on the Clintons, with all their influence and money and entitlement, and expect to win. America isn't ready for a black president, one step at a time. Back down, some said - don't rock the boat - get behind a more electable figure and wait your turn. Maybe in four years, or eight. Don't risk dividing the party over a pipe dream.

Even with the nomination gathered we were fearful. Sure, you can triumph against people who broadly share your views, but that's not a real triumph - what about the Republican smear machine? What will you do against the power of Karl Rove and Fox News? It's difficult enough for an old white Democrat to fight them, how does a relatively young, inexperienced black man expect to take on a war hero like McCain with all the backing and experience of the GOP's electoral team?

And yet last night the world watched into the early hours as America said that it was ready to take the next step, that it was ready for a change, ready for a Democrat, and ready for an African-American. We watched as Pennsylvania, visited by the Republicans 21 times during the campaign, threw itself behind him, closely followed by Ohio, home of Joe the Plumber. With no sign of the Bradley effect, Republicans were talking about what went wrong from the start of the night, and the BBC's coverage had all but named the new president from the start of the programme. With the race too close to call in four key states, we had to wait until 4am GMT for the big projection, as California and Washington state put their weight behind senator Barack Obama and pushed him over the magic 270 electoral votes.

There were many other states backing him, of course. In Virginia, where the populous north was described as not "real Virginia" by the Republicans, the north did its work, and took the state to the Democrats by four points. Florida finally threw off the memories of 2000, and turned itself blue, followed later by Indiana, which overturned a 20 point Republican margin from 2004. North Carolina, another solidly red state for eight years was too close to call through into this morning, with Obama holding onto a slender lead.

We watched McCain appear in Arizona and give a humble and gracious concession speech and then drove home listening to Obama's magnificent victory speech. In two and a half months time, he'll take on a country with huge financial, social and military problems both at home and abroad, without a filibuster-proof senate majority, and with a crippling global economic climate to contend with. It turns out the last 21 months of scrapping and debating and smears and slurs and great speeches and personal revelations and media scrutiny and rumours and robo-calls and polls and predictions and ups and downs was actually the easy bit. The real work starts here, and I couldn't be more confident in his ability to take it on.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Unbelieveable?

There's an interesting post from UK Polling Report, talking about the factors that might cause people to change their mind about a political candidate, if discovered. The results are interesting, and the post goes through them in a bit more detail, but the one that stands out to me is the one concerning atheism.

While in the UK only 20% would refuse to vote for an atheist, similar to the numbers for a gay or Muslim candidate, in the US the number was 53%. Note the question:

If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an atheist, would you vote for that person?

So 53% of the American electorate would refuse to vote for a member of their own party who happened to be an atheist. That is, given the binary presidential situation in the US, they would consider someone whose views they broadly agreed with (except, presumably, on religion) to be unsuitable for office, and would either actively help, or passively allow, someone with opposing political views to get into office instead.

Clearly, there is the possibility that some people may have answered a question that was not asked (Would you like an atheist to be president), instead of considering the exact phrasing of the query, but if we assume that this is not a large number (since otherwise the survey results are obviously useless), this means that 53% of the electorate would put the issue of their candidate's personal view on religion above all other issues. They might agree with their candidate on the economy, on immigration, on healthcare, on education, on Iraq, on oil, on the environment, on everything but whether God exists or not, and that would be enough for them to prefer someone who disagrees with them on all those matters to become president.

Perhaps in reality people would react differently - 38% of conservatives said they wouldn't vote for someone who was 72 years old, but McCain doesn't seem to have dropped that much of the Republican vote, suggesting that some of those could be won round by other factors. Also there is no allowance for the opponent's views, which could affect voters, or the existance of third candidates (which would seem to become more important if one of the major parties fielded a candidate with one of these "problem" characteristics).

Overall, the results pretty much exclude an 'out-of-the-closet' atheist candidate from openly appearing in any electoral race, simply because they will not be able to guarantee enough votes from their base to get official backing. They'll never get the votes because there is a large backdrop of prejudice against them across the board, and so they'd get no significant financial backing or public endorsements.

Looking at the historical data that's also linked, running as an atheist candidate today would be roughly equivalent to running as a woman in 1945, or as an African-American in 1958, both of which would be candidates running so much against ingrained prejudice as to have no chance of winning.

I'd encourage people to glance through the other results in those posts, too - there's lots of interesting data there on other demographics and historical comparisons.

So, would you vote for an atheist? And if not, why not?

The Mysterious Blue Thing



I found this on the back of my door today when I got home from work and assumed that it was from Joe, however it transpires that he has nothing to do with it's existence and neither does any other of my housemates, therefore it was either placed there recently and I have only just noticed it now or there is a cunning ninja going around who likes to give people random presents instead of killing them.

The people who have recently been around our house who could've placed the blue thing are Patrick, Russ and Sam, so they will be the culprits for the moment.

Odd.